CNG Cabs Hit Chicago's Streets
VPG MV-1 CNG cabs now serving the Windy City.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: September 29th, 2012
Anyone can buy an MV-1, but outside of taxi and transit use, most consumers who buy one have a person in the family who needs wheelchair access.
ompressed-natural gas possesses a few advantages over gasoline, the main one being that it pollutes less. One company is trying to put more compressed-natural gas (CNG) taxi cabs on American streets in a step towards cleaner air.
The company, VPG, builds the MV-1, which is a wheelchair-accessible van that uses CNG as its fuel. A 4.6-liter Ford V-8 sits under the hood, and it can be converted to run on compressed-natural gas at the factory (not all MV-1s are CNG, the base engine is a standard gasoline Ford 4.6 V-8). Anyone can buy an MV-1, but outside of taxi and transit use, most consumers who buy one have a person in the family who needs wheelchair access.
That doesn't mean you have to need a wheelchair to use an MV-1, since some Chicago cabbies are using them as their rides, and VPG CEO John Walsh told us that limo drivers also like the MV-1, due to its large rear side doors.
Indeed, one reason that Chicago contracted with VPG is those side doors, according to Walsh, since Chicago requires van cabs to have a side entry.
"There's all eyes on Chicago right now, I can tell you that," Walsh said.
Chicago cab drivers have an incentive to purchase the MV-1: they get priority in the cab line at the airport. And CNG is cheaper than standard gasoline, although there are only about four filling stations in the Chicago area.
Walsh said that "The reaction's been just overwhelmingly positive," and one MV-1 cab driver we spoke to backed up that assertion.
"For me, it's perfect. It serves its purpose really well," Cabbie Younis Khateeb said. Khateeb told us he appreciated skipping ahead in line, even if other cabbies complain. "Cab drivers always moan and groan."
Khateeb also said his passengers have no complaints: "Passengers love it too," he said.
With the CNG conversion, which costs about $10,500, the MV-1 runs about $49,000, Walsh said. There are incentives--as an example, the city of Chicago used a $1,000,000 federal grant to reimburse drivers for up to 100 percent of the cost of converting to CNG.
Chicago and Orange County, California, are the first markets to get the CNG cabs, but VPG is looking to expand.
"The reason we've got so much traction in Chicago out of the gate…is one of our founders is from Chicago," Walsh said, referring to founder and investor Patton Corrigan. Other markets that the company is eyeing include Dallas, Palm Beach, Florida, and Indianapolis. The company is also working on a partnership with New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority.
The MV-1, which has a range of around 300 miles, is approved for use by New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission, but don't expect to see too many prowling around Manhattan, since Nissan's NV2500 won the city's most recent cab contract.
"We call our car the taxi of today, not the taxi of tomorrow," Walsh said, taking a dig at Nissan.
While the MV-1's three primary markets are transit, cabs/limos, and consumers with accessibility needs, that hasn't stopped the company from trying out other markets, like pizza delivery.
The MV-1 is entered into a contest to become Domino's Pizza's official delivery vehicle, and Walsh touts the van's ability to house an oven inside the customizable MV-1 as one of its advantages.
Pizza or passengers, the MV-1 is definitely set up to deliver cargo. And it's doing so while running on an alternative fuel.
That makes it one of the more interesting cabs on the road.