(Our good friend and Jalopnik institution UDMAN was out on business when he came across the Taxi of the future that has, unfortunately, been resigned to the past. His story below — Ed.)
It was a very mild late spring day in Plattsburgh, New York. I was again on the job trying to recruit another truck dealer to take on our fledging product line, and wrapped up early that morning. Then I remembered something about the town of Plattsburgh. It went through a rather agonizing time financially when the local military base closed in the early 90's. Like so many military installations throughout the country, the towns that existed because of the base, usually dies when they closed. Yes, there were hard times in the years that followed, but there was a plan to turn the former air base, that once had bombers and tankers as residents, into an economic development zone so that private enterprise can flourish, and help bring back a sustainable local economy with hope for a brighter future.
From what I saw, the economy escaped the latest economic downturn. There wasn't a spike in foreclosures, new retail developments were being built, tourism was back on the rise, and there was a new terminal at the airport to bring people in. Most important of all, new businesses were relocating around the former military base, with the hopes of making it big. This is a story of one of those businesses that wanted to make it big.
Colin Hyde moved to Plattsburgh from Montreal a little over 8 years ago, to start up GSM Vehicles, Inc., as an offshoot of a Montreal based company, GSM Design. GSM Design specialized in the design and manufacture of large structures made of composite materials, then used for major structural parts of locomotives. The company developed a small bus type prototype as a proof of concept in 1996. Working with Lockheed Martin, they also developed a very early hybrid version of this small bus concept. However, at about this time, NYC wanted a Signature Taxi, one with full accessibility, compact dimensions, low emissions, and unique features. And so began the quest of GSM Vehicles to develop this "signature" cab for the NYC market.
At this time, Hyde worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), along with other partners, to develop a cleaner, more efficient, and more functional vehicle to use in the taxi cab market, as well as the paratransit fleets providing transportation for people with disabilities.
It was determined from the outset that this new vehicle would be powered conventionally, with an option of offering a hybrid version in the very near future. The body was a one piece, composite construction, with the ability to adapt to numerous FWD chassis, and powertrains. The running prototypes utilized a GM mid sized chassis from a Pontiac Grand Prix, along with GM's 3.8L V-6, and an automatic transmission. All wiring harnesses, power accessories, and climate control features were utilized in the prototypes.
Some of the other design features include a foam filled mid section, warding off all but the most severe damage that can be encountered within the confines of a city. Visibility is unparalleled, with an upright seating position for the driver and passengers. Other features include:
* Wheelchair accessibility that conforms to the Americans with Disabilities Act, with high roof line, wide doors, low floors, and an on-board loading ramp.
* Fuel efficient V-6 powertrain, optimized for urban driving.
* Large engine bay and boxy configuration for better serviceability, keeping costs as low as possible.
* Damage resistant and easily replaceable body panels, along with a rugged suspension to withstand harsh commercial service.
* Despite the large interior, the vehicle is almost two feet shorter than a conventional Ford Crown Victoria, helping to reduce congestion.
* Can be made adaptable for wheelchair bound drivers.
All sounded rosy, but funding was lacking, and the parent company was no longer interested in continuing with the project. NYSERDA was stil interested in pursuing the project, but Hyde was busy keeping his company afloat, and has since taken GSM Vehicles Inc. into a new direction. There were 8 Prototypes built (I saw 3 on my visit), with one of them being utilized as Hyde's personal vehicle.
The vehicle drives mostly like any 90's vintage minivan, with acceptable acceleration, compliant ride, and a great deal of room for 6 people. The rear doors open 90 degrees, and ingress and egress is luxurious compared to a typical Crown Vic. Test's show that around town this vehicle posted about 15 mpg, which doesn't sound like a lot, but compared to the typical Crown Vic, that's over 3 mpg better.
It's a shame that NYC won't see these cabs in use. It would have provided NYC with a "Signature" vehicle, along the lines of the London Taxi, or the Philippines Jeepneys, and could have saved fuel as well. After seeing these GSM "Manhattan" Taxi's in person, I can only say it was New York's loss.