eTaxi Makes It Interactive to Cab It

Your typically hectic Manhattan cab ride may get a lot more automated with the introduction of the eTaxi interactive system from TaxiTech. The New Jersey-based advertising/payment-system/ground transportation company just got permission from New York City to offer its touchscreen infotainment and payment system to the city’s 13,000 cabs. Based on early indications from tests on 50 cabs, it looks like the technology should add a positive new dimension to the 20-30 minute ride you’d expect on an average trip around Midtown.

So what would drivers and passengers get in an eTaxi-equipped cab? First off, drivers can text message each other without needing a phone. The uniform console should improve safety, increase cooperation among drivers, and make it easier to locate and return any lost items. On the passenger side, you’ll get the latest news and information on eTaxi’s touchscreen unit. Best of all, the system enables you to pay your fare by credit card, saving you the half minute or so it takes to leaf through your wallet.

As for the future, look for eTaxi to eventually enable consumers to buy movie tickets and even make reservations at a restaurant or hotel directly from their cab. eTaxi represents the latest example of the market bringing the outside world to consumers as they travel. TaxiTech officially started its NYC promotion on June 12, so look for the technology to hit a cab near you in the near future.

– posted by Taeho Lim

2008 Nissan Cube: Thinking Inside the Box

I’ll ‘fess up – I’m not sure I get the whole automobile-in-a-box concept. Over the past dozen years or so, I’ve driven just about every car that’s on the road, from supercars like the Lamborghini Diablo to American muscle cars like the old Trans Am (I drove a mid-’90s model, which was a rattle trap) to cool little roadsters like the Mazda Miata. I love the sleek, glasslike lines of the new BMWs (which many die-hard fans are finding hard to like), and I love spotting some elusive, sporty beastie on the highway and tailing it for awhile, checking out its design, its stance, its uniqueness, until inevitably the driver guns it and I’m left in its dust.

So whenever I have the chance I try to drive something I haven’t driven before. A few months ago, on a trip to Florida, I had a chance to rent a PT Cruiser. Sounded like fun, I thought, as I jumped behind the wheel. And in a sense it was. I know the PT Cruiser (and the similar Chevy HHR) has a big following, and their owners love them. But to be honest, I thought it was an odd driving experience. It took me awhile just to figure out how to open the windows (the buttons are on the center console, not the doors). You sit high in the vehicle, which was okay. It drove well enough. But my biggest gripe was the view out the back and sides, as the rear pillars tended to limit visibility. Sure made lane-changing tricky, and often a little dicey.

In recent years, the PT Cruiser, which is an undeniable hit, has yielded even more boxy cars, like the Scion xB and the Honda Element (neither of which, I confess, I’ve driven). And now comes another boxy car to join the square-shaped parade — the 2008 Nissan Cube.

Ya gotta admit, it’s certainly a descriptive name. No misunderstanding here when you see it on the lot, although a cube (or a square) is not a totally accurate name. It is, in a sense, a box (though I’ll grant you that the Nissan Box is not a particularly colorful name).

Which brings me to my point — why are these cars so popular? They’re certainly not sleek-looking. They’re not aerodynamic (which has been the general trend in automotive design for the past couple of decades). There can be only one answer — they’re different, and perhaps even (dare I say the word?) cute. And it’s that difference (and cuteness) that appeals to a certain segment of the automotive-buying public (i.e. young drivers).

Even more mysterious — early reports have the Nissan Cube as being woefully underpowered, with a mere 1.5-liter engine. That would certainly be fuel-efficient, but also seriously lacking in power. However, reports are still very sketchy, and everything is subject to change, including the design — supposedly the Cube that will show up in the U.S. later this year will be an updated version of the Japanese model, shown above. We’ll have to wait until more info emerges to determine if Nissan is really thinking inside (or outside) the box with its new Cube.

Mixed News Day for Ford

Today the Ford Motor Company can bask in the limelight of a number of prominent headlines. Publications on both shores of the Atlantic had stories focused on the U.S. automaker.

Here in the United States, Ford Motor Company earned flattering attention in J.D. Power’s just-published 2007 Initial Quality Study Results. Power’s summary of key findings in this year’s report points out that Ford’s Land Rover nameplate earned most-improved status in this year’s survey, and Lincoln moved from a #12 ranking last year to #3 in this year’s survey, trailing only Lexus and Porsche, the #1 nameplate featured in this year’s study. Mercedes-Benz also earned praise in the new study, having won top honors in a number of segments of the study. You can read more details and results of the study on the J.D. Power site.

On the far side of the Atlantic, the business press focused on different Ford news. The BBC credits the Financial Times as the first reporters of news that Ford has named Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC to sell its Land Rover and Jaguar nameplates. Those two brands are part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, which also included Aston Martin, until that brand was sold to a UK-based business group in March of this year. According to the BBC, Ford has neither confirmed nor denied that Land Rover and Jaguar are for sale. Read more at the BBC.

Despite its most-improved status in the J.D. Power study, Land Rover has not performed well for Ford business-wise, which continues to combat losses. Many American car manufacturers have “gone green” with new hybrid models and increased attention to fuel efficiency, so perhaps Ford’s sale of a brand clearly focused on large, luxurious SUVs shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Red, White, and Blue…and Green?

Mitsubishi i Car

General Motors idea guy Bob Lutz appeared on the NPR radio show “On Point” yesterday. If you missed it, it’s well worth catching on the podcast: host Tom Ashbrook asks cogent questions, as do the other expert guests and the listeners who call in.

Now, we talk a lot about green driving and environmentally friendly design here at CarGurus, so sometimes I take that perspective for granted. But when I heard Bob Lutz — Bob Lutz, the guy who dreamed up the Dodge Viper! — talking about this on the radio, it seemed like an important moment in a cultural paradigm shift.

But in a week that started with George W. Bush talking about climate change and emissions targets, it seems like anything can happen. Sure, the President’s stance at the G-8 summit didn’t make environmentalists happy, but compared to his “Global warming? What global warming?” stance of just a few years ago, it’s clear that things have changed a lot in a very short time.

And so back to Bob Lutz. As you might expect, he spent quite a bit of time talking about the Chevrolet Volt, the plug-in wondercar coming in 2010 (we hope). But Lutz also addressed overall fuel-efficiency initiatives, the challenge of providing power and size without guzzling gas, and the future of the U.S. auto industry.

“And not a moment too soon,” you might be saying. You’d be right, of course, but until Detroit comes up with a workable time machine, all we can do is move forward from where we are. The American automotive-industrial complex is a big, unwieldy contraption that can’t turn on a dime (h’mm…perhaps this explains the Ford Explorer and the Cadillac Escalade?) and, to be honest, I’m surprised at how quickly the mindsets of consumers and manufacturers alike are changing.

And yet, I somehow doubt we’re ready for the Mitsubishi i Car quite yet. This nanocar has been a megahit in Japan; next week, Mitsubishi will start selling a limited run of the tiny car in the United Kingdom. Priced at a bit over 9,000 pounds, and getting more than 56 miles to the Imperial gallon (that’s 47 miles per gallon US if you don’t have a calculator handy), the i Car’s hotter than a Page Three girl in a sauna.

But will we ever see it on U.S. streets? Stranger things have happened; and after all, who would have thought, back when the SUV was king, that there’d be more than 25,000 Mini Coopers sold in the U.S. every year?

As for me, I’m trying to make our Honda Civic last as long as it can. Maybe my next car will be a Chevy Volt!

In the Year 2020: A Glimpse Into the Future

So what can we expect to see in showrooms a dozen years or so from now? We can’t make any definitive announcements about futuristic designs at this point, but a couple of recent news items on the web give us some idea of what we’ll find under the hoods of some of our favorite cars in the year 2020. And what we’ll see from some automakers, and in some countries, is an almost complete turn away from fuels that produce carbon emissions, and a widespread adoption of fuel-efficient alternatives.

Toyota, for instance, is currently the leader when it comes to hybrid engines, and that trend will continue — so much so that by 2020, the entire Toyota fleet will be driven by hybrid engines, according to a report from the Motor Authority website. The site reports Masatimi Takimoto, Toyota’s vice president in charge of powertrain development, as saying that by 2020, 100 percent of Toyota’s cars will be hybrids. That will be possible because, as production of hybrid engines ramps up, the engines will be less costly to build, and will eventually become as cheap to produce as traditional gas engines.

Using current production numbers as a guide, that means Toyota will build more than 10 million hybrids a year by 2020. The automaker is expected to sell about 430,000 hybrids this year. No word yet on how much gasoline those 10 million hybrids will save, but we’re guessing it’s a pretty significant figure.

And it’s not just automakers that are making predictions about our worldwide automotive fleet in 2020. A report out of India — specifically, the government-produced National Hydrogen Energy Road Map — predicts that one million hydrogen-fueled vehicles will be on the country’s roads by 2020. Interestingly, the report states that most of those vehicles will be two- and three-wheeled vehicles, which does give us some idea of the designs we might see in the next decade (in India, at least).

The report also will guide India, and perhaps other countries as well, as it seeks to develop a hydrogen-based supply infrastructure. You’ll need places to fuel up those one million vehicles, for instance, so you’ll need hydrogen service stations and delivery modes. And it helps establish a goal for India’s five leading automakers, which will begin to gear up production of hydrogen-fueled vehicles. Perhaps it’s time to consider establishing similar guidelines for U.S. automakers and infrastructure.