Toyota seeks to make Japan’s taxis more distinctive by proposing its version of a London cab
NEW York City’s got its sea of yellow cabs. Bangkok has its sickly fuchsia Corollas and no less colorful ”tuktuks.” German cities are littered with Mercedes-Benzes that have each clocked a million kilometers, Rome teems with diminutive Fiats. Metro Manila? Clogged with Toyota Vioses. In terms of iconic taxis, though, nothing is quite as distinctive, as intertwined to its indigenous city, as the London black cab—or Hackney carriage, in British terms.
Of course, Tokyo (and Japan’s other large cities, for that matter) is marked by its own cabs, most of which are domestic-use only Toyota Crowns and Nissan Cedrics. Virtually all are immaculate and antiseptically clean, and are quite regal looking with their late ’80s/early ’90s styling. Board one of these and you’re welcomed by a uniformed, gloved driver who’s prepared to take you anywhere, and who would be more willing to hurl himself in front of a speeding bullet train than even think of haggling with you. Inside these cabs, you can also marvel at how computerized taxi meters and nav systems can coexist with the intricate lace drapery on their seats.
There’s one other thing about Tokyo’s cabs, though: They’re quite dull to look at.
Now, this is what Toyota seeks to fix with its JPN Taxi Concept, prominently displayed at the recent Tokyo Motor Show. The carmaker apparently thinks it should do its share in sprucing up its country’s wallpaper-pretty landscape even more—and not only build and sell the most number of cars on the planet—by proposing a “next-generation taxi concept car” that “aims to enliven city streets.” The concept, Toyota noted, is created with “Japanese hospitality in mind.”
So what this taxi concept has are huge rear sliding doors, in contrast to the rear-hinged “suicide” doors of London’s pride, making entry and exit into and from the cabin dignified. Toyota’s concept goes a step further by—like nearly all taxis in Japan—having doors that open and close electrically.
But the Japanese version follows the British template of offering more room in the back than in front, guaranteeing passengers are comfier than the cabbie, and its high roofed tall-car, two-box silhouette makes the Asian transition, too. With a black paintjob, as Toyota had presented the car at the Tokyo spectacle, and three side windows, the JPN Taxi Concept is a near-replica of the London cab if not for a front end that wears modern rectangular headlamps.
According to Toyota, another aspect of the London cab that has been carried over is the Nippon rendition’s extra-tight turning radius, ensuring valuable maneuverability on Japan’s narrow, labyrinthine streets. Toyota has not released detailed specs of the car though, and so whether the JPN Taxi has the same eight-meter turning circle—arrived at by the British because their cabs must be able to pass through the roundabout in the driveway of London’s famed Savoy Hotel in one go—is still unknown.
Unlike most models of the London cab, which have two rows of seats facing each other in the back, Toyota’s concept has a conventional single row of seats in the rear, which can accommodate three. But the cabin has a low, flat floor, which Toyota said should make getting in and off the cab easier for children and, more appropriately, the elderly—a necessity given Japan’s graying populace.
Also uniquely Japanese is the Toyota cab’s electronic gizmos within it. The carmaker said passengers get a large LCD monitor showing route, destination, fare and other info while the driver has “specially designed instruments and gauges for taxi use.”
As is the norm for public transport vehicles in cities around the globe, including Metro Manila, the JPN Taxi runs on liquefied petroleum gas, although Toyota is hinting that a hybrid electric/LPG power plant isn’t a far-fetched idea.
Now mix this with distinctive, even if derivative, styling, and it’s an idea whose time has come.