Executives expect a certain amount of panache as they travel around the city. If an investment banker or lawyer works late, the company often pays for a ride home – in a late-model Lincoln Town Car or a big black SUV.
Starting next year, those black cars will have a certain green tinge since New York plans to mandate that vehicles that ferry executives get at least 25 miles per gallon. By 2010, they have to get 30 mpg.
Goodbye, Town Car (17 miles per gallon); hello, Toyota Camry hybrid (43 mpg).
Yes, New York's 10,000 black cars are going on a fuel diet.
Clean-air proponents see the shift as small but significant because the cars have a high visibility. In addition, some 30 million visitors travel through New York's airports every year. "If every person hops into a hybrid – whether it's a yellow cab or a black car – that is clean and efficient, it sends a powerful message," says Jack Hidary, chairman of SmartTransportation.org, a public interest group. "This is now spreading, and New York is a harbinger of what is to come."
The shift is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plaNYC, an effort to significantly cut New York's greenhouse emissions by 2030. As part of this effort, last May the mayor announced that the city's 13,000 yellow taxis would have to meet stricter mileage standards by October. This likely means a major shift to hybrids.
The city is far from done with trying to improve its taxi fleet. On Feb. 20, it announced it was sending out a "request for information" in conjunction with Ricardo, Inc., a Detroit design firm, to come up with the standards for the "taxi of tomorrow."
"This is the first time any transportation regulator has gone to an auto manufacturer and said, 'Build us the perfect vehicle' with the chance to make it happen," says Matthew Daus, New York's taxi and limousine commissioner.
Shifting the black cars to hybrids, makes a lot of sense, says the mayor, since they spend a lot of time idling in front of buildings awaiting customers. (Hybrid cars shift to battery power when idling.) The city estimates it will cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 272,000 tons, or 2 percent of transportation-related emissions.
Although hybrids are more expensive to buy, the city calculates owners will save $5,000 a year on fuel, or about half of what they spend today.
The cars themselves may not be quite as roomy as a Denali SUV. On Wednesday, several of the hybrids were on display at New York's World Financial Center. The back seat of the Camry might be a little cramped for two 6-ft., 4-in bankers. But one of those lanky types isn't concerned. "I think people will get used to it," said Seth Waugh, president of Deutsche Bank Americas, which he said will go "100 percent" hybrid. Mr. Waugh's bank, along with Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, will set up a unique financing mechanism to make it easier for the drivers to afford the new vehicles.