By on February 1, 2007

checker-sm222.jpgWhen Ford threatened to pull the plug on its Panther platformed rear wheel-drive cars, the livery and taxicab companies howled in protest and Ford backed down. Ford’s ancient leviathans are welded to the new car lot, but they’re a carriage trade mainstay; there’s no cost-comparable replacement. While rental fleets favor smaller econoboxes and mediocre midsizers, taxis, liveries and police departments still favor big, basic, practical, roomy, reliable, robust, rear-wheel drive automobiles. Sounds like it’s the perfect time to resurrect the Checker Marathon.

In the early 1900’s, America’s taxi business was booming. The demand for cars was so high that Checker Taxi of Chicago contracted with Commonwealth Motor Company to assemble taxicabs using bodies built by Markin Auto Body Corporation. The companies merged at the end of 1921. The Checker Cab Manufacturing Company was established in 1922.

By early 1923, Checker Cabs expanded its sales to New York City. In response to increased production demands (including sales to private buyers), the company relocated its assembly line to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Although the “Checker cab’s” driving dynamics were Paleolithic, the company’s vehicles were famous for their staggering durability and marvelous packaging. The design changed infrequently, which guaranteed consumer recognition and reduced maintenance and repair costs.

1962checker22222.jpgIn the late ‘50’s, as personal car ownership increased, the demand for taxi and other livery vehicles decreased. In 1961, to offset the decline in taxi company orders, Checker entered the consumer vehicle market. Although the Superba (a Checker taxi with more chrome and a nicer interior) was not a big hit, it helped keep the company afloat. In 1962, the Marathon replaced the Superba Special. In 1963, it became the company’s only commercial model. 

The Marathon remained virtually unchanged for the rest of its production run, save for a gradual switch to Chevy drivetrain components. Checker’s limited marketing campaign touted the car’s unchanging style and focused on durability, promoting it as a 200K-car. Meanwhile, taxi companies continued to be Checker’s largest market.

The 1970’s saw Checker sputter to halt. While its vehicles were still a paragon of durability, they weighed two tons and averaged fifteen miles per gallon. Soaring gas prices, double digit inflation, increasing costs, demand for fuel-efficient vehicles and the increasing reliability of Big Three iron made the purpose-built taxi an expensive proposition. Cab companies began converting conventional cars into taxis. Checker’s fate was sealed. The last new Checker rolled off the assembly line in 1982.

new-checker222.jpgSince then, no U.S. based manufacturer has stepped up to the plate with a line of vehicles specifically built for fleet use. With today’s reduced design, development and production costs (including platform sharing and flexible manufacturing), and plenty of component-related talent for hire, perhaps it’s time to resurrect the concept of a Checker Marathon-style vehicle.

If nothing else, such a vehicle could help limit the depreciation mainstream models experience when their rental fleets dump their inventory on the used car market. In fact, this “new Checker” could be parts-bin engineered by any of the domestic nameplates. There should be four models available for fleet discounts.

First up: a front wheel-drive midsize driving appliance for the rental car and company car fleets. It would have a distinctive body shape and one basic configuration, with limited color choices and optional satellite radio and nav system for those willing to pay a bit more at the rental counter.

doors2222.jpgThe other three models would be variations of the same full size rear-wheel drive car. The basic model would be a no-frills machine with a tight turning circle, hose-out interior, V6 engine and optional diesel. The package would maximize interior space; no need for high speed aerodynamic efficiency here (e.g. London’s Metro Cab and TX4). The base model would provide a basis for a blingified luxury-oriented vehicle with a V8, all the amenities and a cushy ride for the livery car and limousine/hearse conversion industries. 

Finally, there would be the law enforcement model combining the taxi platform’s robust underpinnings with a hopped-up V8 from the luxury variant and improved aerodynamics, suspension, brakes, and steering for the inevitable high-speed chases. The interior would be specifically designed to accommodate the various gear that has overtaken modern cop cars. It could even have a standard telematic system used to track the car and provide instant communications and diagnostics back to the station (think On-Star on steroids). 

There wouldn’t be any annual model changes, only running changes to keep up with the latest federal and state safety and environmental regulations. Prices would be based on volume sales, not individual units.

None of these fleet-oriented vehicles would be offered directly to the public. Eventually, they’d turn up in the used car market. But if they’re not worth much as used cars, so be it. There’s always someone out there looking for the cheapest transportation possible. It might as well be something built specifically for the job.

[RF interviews Checker Taxi Stand maven Matt Fry below.] 

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

72 Comments on “Fleet Sales Rx: Checker Redux?...”


  • avatar
    tones03

    I totally agree with you. There is no reason not to do it. The initial cost would be high, but you wuold get that back in no time.

    Anyone want to start a fleet car company?

  • avatar
    UCBert

    Why go to all that trouble? Let someone buy the Panther platform, parts, contract to purchase drivetrains, voila! as they say in the high-rent district.

    R

  • avatar
    Zarba

    Anything would be better than the Impala I rented last month.

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    Anyone want to start a fleet car company?

    Maybe Ford will sell you the Panther’s factory and tooling to make an instant fleet/police/taxi company. After all, Ford needs the money and they sure as hell don’t take the car seriously.

    LOL…I can see it now: Panther Motor Cars LLC.

  • avatar

    A far superior platform is really the classic British “Black Cab”. They are far more roomy and comfortable for the passengers. The small Diesel is more durable, lasts longer, gets way better mileage, and can run on alternative fuels. (Imagine the fumes in Manhattan smelling of french fries instead of carbon monoxide!)They would not be so expensive if they were built domestically and in volume.

    I LOATHE riding in the back of an old Caprice or Crown Vic… I feel like a felon, stuffed into the back of a cruiser.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    UCBert

    Chuck:

    Checker took a crap platform and continually improved it. Couldn’t a smart bunch buy the factory (a la Sajeev’s good idea) and evolve the monster.

    Brit taxis were awful when first I traveled there. Smelly, underpowered; the only good thing were the drivers who could talk off your arm and find their way to any address.

    There’s an opty to take Panther and make something peculiarly American and loveable.

  • avatar
    bestertester

    any cab that can hack it in nyc deserves my utmost respect.

    the poor guys who drive them on twelve-hour shifts, they push ’em to the limits, bounce-crunching through potholes, and hell-racing on the long island expressway.

    the london cab may be more civilized but it is underpowered for new york roads, and is not punished in london like it would be in nyc.

    the peugeots and mercedes they tried out in the 1980s broke springs and suspension arms. frames too.

    i think somebody with money should buy the panther plant and ship it to china, like they did with rover. build cars there to be shipped back to the US.

    and then bloomberg should create an ordinance that only allows lpg fuel in taxis. that would clean up the air; diesel engines on overboost most certainly would not.

  • avatar
    NN

    An efficient idea, certainly…but I’m not sure it would work…both police officers and many rental car users probably like the autonomy they acheive by driving bland sedans. Nothing more dangerous than driving around a sketchy part of town in a car that shouts to the world that you are lost and don’t belong there. The rental cars would be targets for crime, and undercover police would never accept driving cars that stick out so much.

    It would work for taxi’s, however.

  • avatar
    tones03

    Zarba:

    Anything would be better than the Impala I rented last month

    Go drive the Camry or Hyundai and the Impalla looks like a step up, IMO.

  • avatar
    jerry weber

    The sad fact as alluded to by other blogs see above, is that the modern ford panther platform is a terrible misuse of interior space coupled with a low roof line, which makes egress and ingress difficult. It has a knee banging front dash, far too little rear seat leg room (considering the overall size of the thing over 200″long) and is just too space in-efficient to be considered for a future taxi. i agree either design something new or take the British model as something tried and true. That ford took the old crown vic and town car and in the late 90’s morphhed them into this unuseable package sealed their fate in the carriage industry. We should look elsewhere for carriage trade vehicles.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    Here’s the website of a company in Michigan trying to make a taxi-only taxi. And yes, it is not as pretty as the back side of an antique bus, but who cares?

    http://www.standardtaxi.com/home.html

    Volvo developed a purpose-built taxi prototype in 1976, you can see the photos and information here (scroll down), and yeah, Volvo would be a great company to do this. Hey, Ford?!

    http://www.volvoclub.org.uk/press/releases/idnr643.shtml

    May I quote from the above link? It’s interesting that the car had a transverse six cylinder engine and front wheel drive – albiet diesel. Interestingly, Volvo (and GMDaewoo with a Porsche designed transverse inline six) alone built crossways sixes right now.

    The ingenious experimental taxi
    Further proof of Volvo Car Corporation’s insight into what it takes to make a good taxi saw the light of day in 1976. This was the Volvo Experimental Taxi, developed in response to a design competition promoted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The single prototype built was a study in innovation – in terms of safety, function and ergonomics.

    “This front-wheel-drive taxi had automatic transmission and was powered by a very economical six-cylinder diesel engine. Its passenger section was big enough for three, and the floor was low and flat enough to allow a passenger in a wheelchair to get in easily and ride safely. Instead of seat belts for its passengers, it had a safety bar which locked in place at lap height. For the safety of the driver, the front section was partitioned off from the passenger area. The Volvo Experimental Taxi was not put into production, but it did help inspire more ways of making motoring safer and more efficient. Today it can be seen at the Volvo Museum in Gothenburg.”

    I admit it, I’m a Checkerhead and have been since I can remember. Note that when 5 mph bumpers came about on US cars, the Checker Motor Corporation just ran one of their cars into a barrier at 5mph and it passed. Later, however, the cars were recalled to install (GM Delco) hydraulic rams. Why? Because the windshields, which were designed for safety in 1955 for the 1956 A8 (predecessor to A10-A12 cars built from 1959 on to 1982), did WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO and popped out. In 1950’s-think, pre-seatbelts, this was preferable to flying through the windshield and getting cut up (Tucker made a big deal out of this in 1948). By the 1970’s, the safety boffins wanted the windshields to stay in place in 5-10 mph crashes.

  • avatar

    The CG images look like the cab that Korben Dallas drove in The Fifth Element. I like!

    Watch out for Leeloo.

    Also, Panther Motor Cars++

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    The Panther platform SUCKS as a taxi. It’s only in use as the default-vehicle-still-left-in-production. No headroom, no leg room, it’s hugely inefficient.

    By the way, Checker Motors is still in business, in Kalamazoo, in the same factory on Pitcher Street (at least it was the last I knew). Building car parts.

  • avatar
    Adrian Imonti

    chuckgoolsbee: I LOATHE riding in the back of an old Caprice or Crown Vic… I feel like a felon, stuffed into the back of a cruiser.

    Given that many a US cab is a retired police car, the feeling is understandable. (I sometimes wonder while riding in taxis about the sorts of violent felons who must have sat in these seats before me. The visual is not good…)

    On a more serious note, the sheer volume of used police cruisers and the like that are continually dumped onto the market could harm the prospects for a successful purpose-built taxi in the US. I haven’t seen the sales data, but I have to wonder whether much of the inventory acquired by American taxi operators consists of new vehicles. But from the standpoint of the domestic automakers, who are in desperate need of some tools to build brand equity and establish product differentiation, it could be a worthy pursuit, regardless.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    The Panther is used as a taxi because it is near indestructible, gets decent mileage for it’s size, and is inexpensive to own.

    For proof – go to Ebay – there four Town Cars with over 300,000 miles for sale right now. There was one for sale last week with 560,000 miles on it.

    Of course, I am biased – I’ve driven Grand Marquis for years, trading up each time only because the wife doesn’t want to drive a car older than 10 years. As long as they build them, I’ll buy them.

    If you think trying to get into a Panther is tough, you should have tried the 2000 Intrepid I used to own – sold it and kept my 94 Grand Marquis because it was a better car even being 6 years older.

  • avatar
    ash78

    The London cab is a great platform and is the darling of quite a few private liveries in the northeast and Chicago (among others). Since the new ones are Ford tdi engines, I’d bet you could slot another Ford engine in there, maybe the 3.0 or 3.5 V6. Not sure if you could get those into the space of an inline 5, though.

    I love those cabs.

    Regarding durability: Why is it that I see so many Honda Odysseys and DCX vans in taxi service in large cities? Surely the economics have to work out somehow. Much better than a Crown Vic, for the passengers (especially if it’s the Cash Cab!)

  • avatar
    UCBert

    There’s an efficient market out there and the Panther looks like the most efficient solution to me. Everything else is lots of money and lots of ugleeee! Volvo experimental taxi? Eeek!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    In the mid 1980’s, a substantial effort to revive Checker almost succeeded. James McLernon, a former GM exec., bought the rights to the Checker name and built a prototype using GM X-car fwd drive-train. It had a new, practical boxy body; very city friendly. The reason it didn’t catch on: too expensive to make.

    Therein lies the problem with your proposal. Ford probably sells the Vic’s for about $20k. They’ve been making them so long, they can afford to do so. But the investment to make a new body would raise costs. Taxi operators are addicted to the cheap Vics.

    Also, the push for new more efficient and cleaner drivetrain technology creates a major obstacle. NYC wants to see more hybrids; the Panther chassis is not a particularly good design for that.

    Frankly, a Ford Escape hybrid (or equivalent) with a 6″ stretch is my candidate for the future NYC cab.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Each of the 2.5 could do this with a combination of old nameplates/old technology or current tech decontented.

    GM – Oldsmobile nameplate, old Caprice platform (although the tooling is probably gone now).

    Ford – Doesn’t have an old nameplate (I would advise against Edsel!), current Panther platform. Is in the best position platform wise.

    Chrysler – Plymouth nameplate (Desoto might be a consideration). Only the 300/Charger platform available, but if you decontent it enough it would be cheap enough I think.

  • avatar
    windswords

    To add to my previous post: Chyrsler could revive the Plymouth Voyager name and make a purpose built minivan taxi after consulting with cab companies and finding out what they would want in a car. Cabbies could have a choice of economical 4 cyl or diesel for city routes or a V6 for longer over road trips (say suburbs to airports).

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    While in NYC last weekend, I saw a Camry Hybrid taxi. Odd, I thought, as they’re expensive and have a small trunk, but put over 100k miles and the cost of the hybrid is supposed to be covered.

    Also saw minivan taxis – Siennas and Odysseys. Heck, here in the Virginia suburbs of DC there are Scion xB taxis.

  • avatar

    My .02:

    Whatever lies underneath the new cab/rental car, I’d suggest that it looks like the old Checker Marathon.

    Even today, when Checker owners (without livery or a light) are waiting at a light, people hop in.

    A Mariner or minivan? Yuck. That’s just not American enough for me!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Robert, I agree on the looks part. Problem is unless a unique body style is mandated by law, as in London, I don’t think you’ll ever see cab-unique designs make a go. Too expensive. There have been dozens of concepts in Europe and US over the decades, and only London soldiers on (by law). Even in London, they have “mini-cabs” (regular cars)that are cutting into the pie.

  • avatar
    Glenn A.

    The reason London mandates taxi dimensions (thus, providing a way for a couple of specialist manufacturers to survive) is is because the streets are so small and 90 degree (or even tighter) turns must be made without swinging tons of metal overhang all over the paths (sidewalks to us Americans).

    Thus, the London transport authority has mandated a VERY small turning circle on London cabs from the beginning.

    It’d take a similar mandate from Mr. Bloomberg or other mayors, here.

    Perhaps, requiring a maximum overall dimension (smaller cabs means more room on the road for cabs, cars and trucks, right?), and mandating hybrid drivetrains, LPG or CNG or hydrogen as a fuel, “until something else comes along better, if ever.”

    How about a Honda Odyssey based heavy duty taxi with CNG powered 1.8 engine PLUS the hybrid system (both from the Civic)? For New York and Chicago and Detroit streets, they’d probably have to forge the suspension arms from TITANIUM…

    There’s only so much asphalt in New York, Chicago, etc. Smaller outside-dimension taxis seem to make more sense…

  • avatar
    chanman

    The Toyota Crown Comfort, I think, is taxi-only. Every single taxi I’ve seen in Hong Kong has been the Crown Comfort, but the didn’t see any private examples. Wikipedia’s entry claims the Crown Comfort is a taxi-only configuration.

  • avatar

    bestertester:

    “the london cab may be more civilized but it is underpowered for new york roads, and is not punished in london like it would be in nyc.”

    Not sure about the punishment. In Wapping we have potholed cobbled streets, and this is a rat-run for cabs between the City and Docklands (the ‘new’ City). Shakes your fillings.

    Having lived in both London and Chicago, I much prefer the Black Cab to the Crown Vic variety (I’m a New Zealander so no home bias either). The former can take 4-5 comfortably, whereas the Crown Vics have nasty fibreglass barriers which render the backseat almost legroom-less. Nigh impossible to get into if you’re 6’5″.

    The spotlight on the Police Interceptor ones does have a certain charm though.

    On my first my taxi ride in Chicago, I tried to jump into the front seat, as is normal in NZ (Ford Falcon taxis). I duly crashed into the improvised heater ducting, for said fibreglass barrier. Not sure who was more startled; me or the driver. Poor chap looked like I was going to rob him.

    London Black Cabs are relatively expensive and there has been talk of removing the regulations which prevent normal cars being used. I’m sure they will survive though, as they’re so much more comfortable and convenient than the back seat of most vehicles.

  • avatar
    CAHIBOstep

    There are two or three London cabs in Chicago run as livery cars by hotels. They are primarily advertising gimmicks. A few years back the Mayor floated the idea of requiring that the cab companies switch over to London cabs exclusively. Predictably, it went over like a lead-lined balloon.

    The last time I checked, cabbies didn’t make a ton of cash. Ninety percent of cabs in Chicago are retired Ford Interceptors that start their cab life with 100K miles already on them. Not to mention a jillion hours of idling on the clock. Until someone can build a relatively large vehicle that can be purchased for $8,000 and have the living piss beat out of it for ANOTHER 150K miles, it’s just not realistic.

    Moreover, most cabbies are not blasting John Mellencamp (while they drive in circles in the Loop for 12 hours a day), swearing allegiance to Detroit. They would drive anything from anywhere if it would save a few more bucks. There simply isn’t a better option than a cheap, used P71 for heavy-duty city service. These people are just trying to make an honest buck, and Ford evidently gives them that opportunity.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Chrysler was trying to push the Charger as a police cruiser, and IMHO, the 300’s got some “Checkeresque” styling. The 300C’s got power, give it some mods to extend rear legroom, convince Dr.Z to drop-in a proper Daimler tranny and voila!

    I can see why reception has been lukewarm, the platform is relatively new and long-term durability has yet to be proven. But in theory, it’s RWD, so it has to be better than the Impala!

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    Hell, Ford already has the factory in St. Thomas to make the Panthers – just keep it open and sell only to fleets. They’re moving the Town Car assembly there soon, too, so they have everything all ready: luxury V8 for limos, base CV for rentals, taxi CV for the taxis, and the Police Interceptor, all in one plant, already there. Sounds like a good concept.

    I bet Ford won’t do it.

  • avatar
    GlennS

    I’ve seen bright-yellow 2006 Honda Civic sedan cabs here in central Connecticurt.

    Perhaps a local dealer made a sale to the cab company?

    Anyway, for a quick one or two person ride to the airport, the Civic sedan offers a reasonable trunk (for luggage), great mileage (30 MPG city) and will likely last a good long time.

    I’ve seen other, larger, vehicles that the same company uses, just in case they need to haul a larger group of folks (and their stuff) that the Civic sedan might not be appropriate for.

    But for the average ‘suburb to the airport’ or ‘across town’ type of fare? The Civic sedan makes for an OK cab, obviously.

    [Edit:] That’s in suburbia, but in NYC, then yea, I’d think some kind of tank-like, yet easy to repair cab might be a better bet.

  • avatar
    dean

    Here in Vancouver the large cabs are becoming extinct. I see more and more Corollas, Camrys and Prii on a daily basis.

    The Caprice/Crown Vic cabs are all getting very run down. All have been converted to Propane and I suspect is the increasing cost of propane (and lack of fuelling locations) that is driving the move to hybrid and efficient gas powered cabs. There are still minivan-based cabs to handle the bigger groups of people, but most of the time cabs are only carrying one or two people.

    And the comment about London cabs being underpowered for NY roads is complete bs. Underpowered for what? Idling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic?

  • avatar
    blautens

    taxman100 –

    Not to pick on your ride of choice, but durable as the Panther platform may be, you have to admit, ingress, egress, and space efficiency are not associated with this platform.

    My father loves (and sometimes hates) his long series of Crown Vics/Grand Marquis vehicles. I was a police officer. So I’m intimately familiar with the platform I’ve gotten in and out of one, and stuffed it full of gear far more than most.

    I’d rather get in and out of something else. A Checker. A Scion or Sienna. Almost any minivan.

    Or stuff gear in something else. The long, low trunk of the Crown Vic may be spacious, but bending over and stowing/retrieving my storage containers, 40-75 pounds each, in and out of one was not fun.

    And why the #%&$ do I knock my knees in a new Vic/Marquis when all I do is want to use the CUPHOLDER?

    I believe in a purpose built car as described in the article – and maybe even stealing a current retail model – but not the Panther platform without some reengineering.

  • avatar
    UCBert

    Bottom line: buying a chassis and the factory to build it will be the most cost effective way, not the most comfortable.

    There’s a business case for Panther; mayhaps an entrepreneurial type — or even a car-oriented LBO bunch — will make money on a fire sale.

  • avatar

    Frankly, I just like the minivan taxis that have appeared. It is nice to sit upright and you can cram more people in when needed. Given that minivans are never glamorous to begin with, I see no reason why they can’t just encourage fleet sales of them, maybe beefed up with some bin SUV parts.

    For a police cruiser, while I am sure RWD is important to them, I can’t see the cost justification for their own platform. Best to just reskin a low-end luxury platform (like the Cadillac CTS), strip out the amenities and packaging and just sell that. Make it look mean and menacing and people will probably like it even more. The beauty of cop sales is that people aren’t driving them, so they just have to look decent and they should build brand equity.

  • avatar
    UCBert

    Police drove smaller cars in the fuel crisis and post-crisis years.

    When they returned to full-size cars, they died and went to heaven.

    It’s far from perfect, but the Panther platform continues to address an unmet market need.

  • avatar
    NickR

    lprocter1982: I was thining exactly the same thing. It is an easily partitioned out part of the business that is a) a going concern and b) has an established user base. I agree that the packaging of the Crown Vic is not ideal for it’s size, but that hasn’t stopped countless cab co’s and police departments from using them. And if they can incorporate the Lincoln line, the whole prospect is that much more appealing. If I was a Ford, I’d be shopping the plant around, for sure.

    Truth be told, they could also swing some arrangement where they farm out the Five Hundred platform. It’s interior space to exterior dimensions ratio is better than the Crown Vics. And from what I gather it’s off to a very good start reliability-wise. What with the cool reception it got, and Ford’s having to reskin it already, they might just be ahead going this route.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    I hate to interrupt the Panther platform love fest, but these vehicles have “issues”.

    http://www.crownvictoriasafetyalert.com/

  • avatar
    UCBert

    Nick:

    Very wise; I like your approach. The 500 and Fusion are sunk cost and the quicker they’re scuttled the better.

    Johnny:

    What cars don’t have issues? Audi, Merc, Volks have quality problems. Maybe last generation Avalons would be better (leg room, quality, modernity), but they are fwd (and Toyota would charge you double for the factories and the platforms).

    No opportunity is perfect or without risks. I find this an interesting one.

  • avatar
    Maxwelton

    As an aside, my elderly neighbor at my first house knew of my car “problem” and one day asked if I’d be interested in his “old car” which he had stashed in his basement garage many years ago. Visions of a ye olde Jaguar, Packard, etc. floated in my head…

    Car turned out to be a fairly rough Checker Marathon wagon. Uh, no thanks.

  • avatar
    foobar

    I like the themes carrying across columns here — Subaru Day, then Fleet Day.

    Seems like New York cabbies have been experimenting a lot more with alternative vehicles over the last few years. I’ve seen everything from Camrys (Camries?) to Ford crossover-utes decked out in taxi yellow. I see a lot of the Honda Odyssey, which I think is actually a very good choice for the job, but it looks really strange in yellow-cab garb. That said, I’m sure an imported London cab or a custom-made cab model could do well in New York, and I’d love to see it. Fuel economy, durability, and space are all it would take, and a distinctive look could help sell to cabbies who pay a premium for a hack license and want to be hailed on the street.

  • avatar
    UCBert

    We tested several London cabs in Chicago. They were swell and would be a pleasant change. That said, no cab company was going to pay more than double what they pay for a Panther.

    Would it make sense to have two classes of cabs w/two fare structures (one more than double the other)? Would be an interesting experiment.

  • avatar
    chainyanker

    I hate to interrupt the Panther platform love fest, but these vehicles have “issues”.

    NHTSA INVESTIGATION: SQ01-014 (Panther fires)
    Reason for Closing (investigation):
    Under the present circumstance, it is unlikely that further investigation would produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of a safety-related defect in the subject vehicles. Therefore, this investigation is closed based on the evidence available at this time.

    http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/problems/studies/CrownVic/index.html

  • avatar
    UCBert

    Chainyanker:

    And your point is…

    Panther’s not perfect. Just like a lot of the rest of us.

  • avatar
    BTEFan

    I think Dean mentioned this before, but up here in Vancouver the Prius is becoming quite a common cab. It totally makes sense. They run on electricity at low speeds, the batteries will regenerate when the driver brakes (and that happens a lot in this city), they shut off at idle so no emissions, and are actually quite spacious inside and can carry a reasonable amount of luggage to the airport. Its also a great conversation point for folks, too, as the hybrid drive diagram is glowing in front of you as you ride along. Plus, in BC, there is a $2000 tax credit for getting a new Prius.
    If a Prius is too small for a cabbie, they can get a Camry hybrid. Though, who needs anything bigger than a Prius. If I we are liquored up at 3AM and the bar is closing , any cab to home will do!

  • avatar
    chainyanker

    UCBert:
    February 1st, 2007 at 7:16 pm
    Chainyanker:
    And your point is…
    Panther’s not perfect. Just like a lot of the rest of us.

    Never said it was. Just saying it’s not the fire bomb it’s made out to be as implied above. I reserve my right to call BS when I smell it.

  • avatar
    Glenn

    Personally, I’ve written an article (in a Toyota site) saying “why not use the Prius for police use?” It also seems to be (nearly) perfect for taxicab use, perhaps a station wagon variant would be better than the hatch for both? More luggage room.

    In all honesty, I and another blogger looked over the stats and specs, and the Ford police interceptor (Panther platform) literally only has a tad more shoulder room compared to the Prius inside. For police use, remove the center console (to put the shotgun there) and add a barrier, viola.

    0-60 was almost the same – believe it or not. Where the Prius fell down was top speed of 106 vs 131, but know what? Most police forces don’t do high speed chases any more due to liability issues. Besides, as I wrote earlier “it’s hard to outrun MOTOROLA!”

    I estimated that a police Prius would use 1/3 of the fuel of a Ford V8 and essentially, do the same job.

    Likewise, a taxicab Prius makes an awful lot of sense. I’d previously seen info on this, in fact, I think in Canada as stated by someone else, but also in the states.

    Now, can anyone else imagine a stretch limo Prius? Well, why not!? Chrysler stretched the K-car at the factory for
    the livery buyers, does anyone else remember that one?

    Still, for inner city super-tough use, a dedicated car might be the ticket, for taxi use.

  • avatar
    macarose

    Okay a few things that need to be cleared up here.

    1) The Crown Vic investigation was pure unadulterated BS that was covered in length by Car & Driver. Although I have serious disagreements with certain aspects of that publication, their reporting of this was spot on and based on the merits.

    2) I’m very surprised that few people here have looked at the durability and maintenance friendliness of the Panther platform. There simply isn’t a single vehicle out there that can compare to this platform in those two measures. The engine and transmission have been designed with long-term durability in mind, and the addition of larger radiators, transmission coolers and better suspension components make these vehicles virtually bulletproof.

    3) Taxis typically look more at up front costs than running costs. If the taxi company has another cabbie that’s worth their time, they need to get them a taxi asap and for as little money as possible. Most two to four year old police interceptors will cost any where from 3k to 6k depending on it’s overall condition and use. A Prius… cost $20,000+ and virtually all the other models mentioned, even used, typically carry a heavy premium. Due to the volume of vehicles, the comfort of the Panther platform, and the VERY low cost for replacement parts, there isn’t another platform out there that comes close.

    If there would be one thing that may be worth a second look at… it’s the possibility of offering a lithium-ion battery to the Panthers in the years to come. Another more affordable option is to have the heater and a/c controls connected with a battery of some type so that you can simply turn the engine off when you’re waiting for customers. The only genuine achilles heal with the Crown Vic right now is the fuel consumption when idling. Otherwise, no taxicab customer is going to say, “Do you have any vehicles besides a Crown Vic?” They’re looking for quick transportation. Not an opportunity to sample cars a la the rental fleets.

    Just as an aside, most auto auctioneers around metro-Atlanta drive police interceptors, pickup’s, Cadillacs, and other full sized American cars. They are absolutely unbeatable values in the used car market. Although I’ve driven a Camry 249,000 miles not too long ago, I do have to say that the 2004 Intrepid with the leather interior and 3.5L engine is a far better vehicle. More power, more comfort, a nicer stereo system and an excellent powertrain.

    I bought it for $3000. The Tool & Supply company that used it as a sales car drove it 135k and had everything maintained on it per manufacturer recommendations. I usually drive them to near 250k and then sell them for $2000 – 2500.

    I’m willing to be that just like my friend’s cars… it’ll get there… and then some ;)

  • avatar
    jthorner

    This is a perfect market segment for the Chinese or Indian manufacturers to go into. The designs need hardly ever change and the main criteria is that the products be cheap to buy and rugged. Sort of like basic tractors, but for the road.

    Or, Toyota could just continue it’s march to domination by bringing the purpose built Toyota Comfort taxicab into the states. How is it that Toyota seems to have nearly all the bases covered all the time while GM and Ford thrash about?

    Here is the wikipedia page on the Toyota Comfort:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Comfort

  • avatar
    skor

    RE: Adrian Imonti:

    Given that many a US cab is a retired police car, the feeling is understandable. (I sometimes wonder while riding in taxis about the sorts of violent felons who must have sat in these seats before me. The visual is not good…)

    You don’t know many policemen, do you?

    Violent felons rarely ever sit quietly in the back of patrol cars. What they do is bleed, spit, urinate, defecate , vomit or all of the above.

    BTW, Ford makes an extended wheelbase CV with longer rear doors for use as cabs. Most of the CVs used in NYC are this long wheelbase version.

    One more thing, NYC tried finding an alternative to the CV on a number of occasions — assorted foreign and domestic minivans and crossovers. Not one of them could go as far and as cheaply as the CV.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Chainyanker

    Thanks for that NHTSA report. I know a guy that lost his wife in a Panther platform fire. Considering just the structural damage to the automobile, she should have survived. So, perhaps my comment was biased.

    No BS intended

  • avatar

    A postscript to the Checker story: I seem to remember back in the early 80’s that a retired GM chairman (Ed Cole seems to come to mind, although my memory is fuzzy on this) headed a consortium who bought the company with the intent of designing a new generation Checker and keeping the company as a real car producer. Unfortunately, said president was killed while flying his private plane a couple of weeks later and the whole effort came to naught.

    Pity – there was a real intent to keep the company viable.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    Crown Comfort is way under powered in the US for Taxi, if you have seen how the cab drivers drive their cab, you will know what I mean. I rode in the Crown Comfort many times and they have no room for anyone over 5’9″. Fuel economy is great, but the fuel price in the US is so low compare to the rest of the world, this is not the highest priority.

    As mentioned, since the taxi pricing is fixed, small taxis will be in a disadvantage compare to the larger ones. As long as fuel price is not a concern and used initial purchase price is more important, it will always favor reliable, big, fleet cars like Crown Vic. Since CrownVic is a huge market fleet market (police) that constantly need reliable and large cars, they will always be the source of taxis.

    If the dynamic shifts to more fuel economical friendly taxi, the next taxi will be from the rental industry or company fleet. Something like a used Malibu, Impala, 500, Sebring will be the most likely candidates, not hybrid or EV (batterys and electronics are too expensives and are not reliable enough yet).

  • avatar
    willjames2000

    comment withdrawn

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    Although I;m not a big fan of those rear drive monsters, I hate to see them go. The panther name doesn’t fit the product. I’d have called it the moose or something.

  • avatar

    There seems to be a lot of disagreement over whether a cab can be underpowered for NYC streets. I think it helps to have driven a car in Manhattan to understand the peculiar requirements of driving in that environment and why full size V8-powered cars are favored.

    It is not that cabs are driven at high speeds, but rather that the pace of NYC driving requires constant rapid acceleration and deceleration. The only way to advance in Manhattan traffic is to take advantage of any and every opportunity. When a hole opens in traffic in the lane you are trying to reach, you must punch the accelerator and turn the nose in immediately, before the hole closes. It is the responsibility of the other traffic to see you and slow down or stop in time. The life of the NYC taxi cab is one of constant stop light to stop light drag races — the perfect application for a domestic V8. The long nose of the Crown Vic is also key to being able to force your way into a neighboring lane. I’ve driven minivans in NYC and when you push your way into a lane, you’re pushing the driver’s seat into harm’s way. It makes you less bold and less effective.

    I think there is certainly an opportunity for Ford to segregate their Panther platform fleet business from their retail business. Since the Panther uses body-on-frame construction there is an opportunity for an entrepreneur to correct the space and layout issues of the Crown Vic while maintaining parts compatibility with the existing Panther drivetrain components. What would stop Ford or a potential entrepreneur from designing a taller Panther platform body with a longer back seat and taller/narrower trunk similar to the form of a London cab but with some Bold Moves American styling. If the car were designed with this goal in mind it could replace the current Crown Vic and continue in the current tradition of being sold first as a Police Interceptor and finding its second life in taxi fleets. The problem is that Ford doesn’t have the spare operating capital for anything but the Way Fordward right now. It would take some savvy entrepreneurs to snap up the Panther platform and evolve it.

  • avatar
    CAHIBOstep

    Brandon D. Valentine: “The only way to advance in Manhattan traffic is to take advantage of any and every opportunity. When a hole opens in traffic in the lane you are trying to reach, you must punch the accelerator and turn the nose in immediately, before the hole closes. It is the responsibility of the other traffic to see you and slow down or stop in time.”

    What you are describing is better known as driving like an a–hole. I drove a 30′ straight truck every day in Manhattan one summer during college, and you must have been one of the 5,000 people who cut me off — in an obvious attempt to commit suicide — who then, evidently, explained to his/her terrified friends, “this is Manhattan. It’s his responsibility to slow down or stop in time.”

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    London Taxi manufacturer’s web-site.

    The author of this article is on to something. Cab owners love durability more than anything else. A few of them just laid down and died when Chrysler stopped making the old slant-6. I have to believe that if a diesel is available with the right platform they would go for it.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    Checkers were cool. As a lot of people know, many parts of the Checker were interchangeable; for some examples, the bumpers were the same fore and aft and tail and headlamp assemblies could fit either side of the car. It cut down on the number of spares the owner had to have, which is a great thing for fleet service.

    A friend of mine’s dad had a big hulking black Checker wagon for many years. I remember going on a camping trip with his family; there were 5 of us in the car (2 adults, 3 teenagers) along with all the camping accoutrement (a tent, food, etc). Everything fit inside the car, only the family rowboat when on the top. Being a box shape, it was a very efficient car to pack full!

  • avatar
    lprocter1982

    Another reason why cops love the Crown Vic – front seat space. Maybe not in terms of knee space, but try to fit two 200lb police officers, their equipment, a laptop, radio, light and siren controls, and in some cases weaponry in the front seat of any other car.
    Police services have been testing the Dodge Charger for patrol duty, and while it admittedly has much more power and handles much better, there is not as much room in it – it’s not quite as wide. Plus, it costs a fair bit more.
    As for the rear seats in cruiser, I don’t think the cops want them to be particularly comfortable. When the cops have to put someone back there, it’s usually not so they can be pampered.
    By the way, the RCMP, one of the largest purchases of Crown Vic cruisers in North America, has tested the Charger, and a number of other vehicles, and they’ve declared that they’re sticking with the Crown Vic. That alone speaks volumes for how much police like the CV. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than any alternative available right now.

    And to whoever mentioned the Prius as a police car – never gonna happen. Sure, a number of services have Prii as only community service vehicles, but none will ever use them as patrol vehicles. For some reason, I don’t think Prii would be very good in high speed pursuits, or ramming other vehicles, or lugging tons of equipment. It’s be great on fuel, but there are more concerns regarding police use than mileage.

  • avatar
    mdanda

    There is already overcapacity in the industry—why on earth would you create a new brand? Cheaper to buy the overflow from existing manufacturing.

  • avatar
    i6

    It goes without saying that a company who’s sole purpose is building taxis should revive the Checker name. It also goes without saying that a low-margin, zero-market-appeal vehicle would best be built in China.

    Chinese Checkers anyone?

  • avatar
    i6

    mdanda wrote:
    There is already overcapacity in the industry—why on earth would you create a new brand? Cheaper to buy the overflow from existing manufacturing.

    There was an article somewhere, uhm I think it was this site not too long ago, uhm I think it was the very preceeding article, that described how existing manufacturers are getting out of the fleet business.
    Or are you proposing that someone buy their cars at retail then resell them at fleet discount?

  • avatar

    While I remember the days of the Checker Cabs with nostalgia, I don’t think reinventing the Marathon line is the answer – unless the question is “where can I find a used vehicle that I can give my teenager that’s guaranteed to survive virtually any crash.” The answer for the taxi market isn’t a Marathon. In fact, the answer already exists…it’s the minivan.

    Minivans are practical, spacious, flexible, economical and relatively cheap. I’d rather take my chances in the back of a Dodge Grand Caravan in traffic (better visibility, more room, etc.) than I would in sedan.

    What would be a better idea is if Detroit decided to build a minvan expressly beefed-up for the livery market – more durable seats, better A/C in the back, and perhaps the obligatory Lexan shield between the driver and passengers could be engineered into the vehicle. Add drive-by-wire technology, and you’d have a world market vehicle that would work anywhere.

  • avatar

    CAHIBOstep: All’s fair in love and war and Manhattan driving is definitely war. Cabby’s are certainly far more guilty of the practice than I’ve ever been and if anyone wants the power to drive that way, they do. How else do you cross 2-3 lanes to pickup a fare? You sit and sit and sit with your turn signal on long enough or go around enough blocks because you couldn’t make your turn and you have no choice but to get hip to the rules of engagement.

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    At the risk of being labeled a hayseed (or worse), when you live in the heartland you question the future relevance of taxicabs, and wonder if they may one day suffer the same fate as the pay phone (remember those?).

    Honestly, outside of a handful of cities (New York, Boston, Washington, DC and Chicago come to mind) I never use cabs when I travel…I rent a car. Even in the major cities mentioned previously, I tend to use taxis only to get to my hotel, and I then use mass transit (or walk) for most intra-city travel. It’s gotten to where most larger cities in the South, Midwest and West are so spread out that having a car is a must, and the cost to rent a car is nominal.

    Speaking of purpose-built rental cars, didn’t GM do that for a while with the final days of the Oldsmobile Alero, and later, the Chevrolet Classic (which was actually a rebadged, previous generation Malibu)?

  • avatar

    In the mid 1980’s, a substantial effort to revive Checker almost succeeded. James McLernon, a former GM exec., bought the rights to the Checker name and built a prototype using GM X-car fwd drive-train. It had a new, practical boxy body; very city friendly. The reason it didn’t catch on: too expensive to make.

    Actually, that’s not entirely true. Jim McLernon was president of Volkswagen America and had been working with former GM exec Ed Cole, who, at the time, was part-owner, chairman and CEO of Checker Motors (David Markin remained as President and COO).

    In 1977, a group of investors, led by Cole, wanted to revive Checker (possibly because they looked so much like his tri-5 Chevies?). The original idea was to build a cab on an elongated VW Rabbit chassis, but they decided that it just wouldn’t cut it as a cab. Ed knew through his inside sources that GM was working on the X-body (think “Chevy Citation”) and thought it would be a much better fit. But GM would only commit to supplying parts as long as the X-body was made. This was unacceptable to Checker as it would have taken about 10 years to amortize the tooling costs for the new car.

    Sadly, Ed Cole died in May of 1977 in a plane crash while returning to Kalamazoo, effectively ending the Checker revival. The last Checker rolled off the line in 1982.

  • avatar

    sykerocker wrote:

    A postscript to the Checker story: I seem to remember back in the early 80’s that a retired GM chairman (Ed Cole seems to come to mind, although my memory is fuzzy on this) headed a consortium who bought the company with the intent of designing a new generation Checker and keeping the company as a real car producer. Unfortunately, said president was killed while flying his private plane a couple of weeks later and the whole effort came to naught.

    Pity – there was a real intent to keep the company viable.

    Indeed, it was Ed Cole, and if anyone could have kept it going, he was the man. Checker is still in business, stamping metal parts for the big three, and making quite a chunk of change doing so.

    BTW, if you don’t remember Ed, he was the father of the
    tri-5 Chevies, as well as the small block V8. :)

    Read more about Ed Cole

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    I remember checker cabs in NYC years ago – they were cool cause they fit more people for nearly the same fare – four people could comfortable share a single cab, six if u were real freindly.

    The cabs in philadelphia are all beat up old fords and chevys, none too pretty for the reputation of the city or the respective manufacturers. A lot of cabbies are really bad drivers too, cutting people off alot. I would like to make it punishable by slow death to be a taxi driver blowing his or her horn once every 2 seconds to attract business.

    I worked with a guy who had a marathon as a regular car. Three of us went to lunch, I was in the back seat alone, which probably could have opened out to a full size sofa bed. I recall having to shout for my voice to reach the front seat. It was huge in an era of huge cars. It was also really dopey looking tho, in my humble opinion. There was nothing about this car that made me want it.

    Great article! I must say that would I prefer the use of hybrid SUV like vehicles, to cut down on the exhaust in center city.

  • avatar
    Christian

    The article’s point is that modern methods and tools, design, development, and production costs allow some interesting niche market opportunities. Some of these niches would be big by standards beneath the big players. It reminded me of something I saw once. A startup targeting the law enforcement market.

    http://www.carbonmotors.com/

    It’s an interesting idea. Maybe it’ll run afoul of the opportunity-as-competition mindset, but if market fragmentation results in better focused products, I’d root for it.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I seem to remember back in the early 80’s that a retired GM chairman (Ed Cole seems to come to mind, although my memory is fuzzy on this) headed a consortium who bought the company with the intent of designing a new generation Checker and keeping the company as a real car producer.

    I remember reading about that in Road & Track. I believe it was largely based on Citation running gear and would have shared many panels with it.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    I prefer the use of hybrid SUV like vehicles, to cut down on the exhaust in center city.

    OPPS

    i meant hybrid minivans, even tho I understand NYC is experimenting with hybrid escapes or something.

  • avatar
    Mud

    As a longtime driver of a 95 CV copcar and a 2002 LX Sport I gotta tell you – I think that these are some of the better domestics out there. Don’t laugh.

    My criteria:
    Drivetrain is about a bullet-proof as you will find, they are easy to work on and parts don’t have to be ordered with a 3 week timeframe. Both of mine average 20-23 mpg overall city/hiway – with the stiffer suspension and a decent set of shocks/tires they ride and handle reasonably well. With a Marauder airbox/MAF and aftermarket tune, they are a lot quicker than you might think. They have probably been some of the most economical and dependable vehicles I’ve ever owned.

    I’m not geriatric aged and we own a variety of US, Japanese, and German cars. For my daily driving, I’ll take my CV’s any day thank you. Before you sneer at the “old” technology and platform think about WHY so many of these bulldozers are still out there. Maybe because they continue to function day in and day out as originally intended.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • ajla: I anticipate the next Mustang is going to be a larger(roomier) and softer vehicle. The sales difference between...
  • FreedMike: Not sure what you mean…?
  • SCE to AUX: Hmm. I like Challengers and electric… so confusing. I’m not a fan of the Charger’s...
  • FreedMike: @flyersfan: Took the money and ran – sounds like a good deal. And congrats on the Miata!
  • EBFlex: Electric anything should offend everybody.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber