The Lincoln Town Car, a mainstay of executive transportation, and the Ford Crown Victoria, part of taxi and police fleets, are being discontinued.
They are the muscular, leg-roomy fixtures of New York’s crowded streetscape, the automobiles that came to represent the city.
The Ford Crown Victoria served as the mainstay of taxi and police fleets. Its close cousin, the Lincoln Town Car, could reliably be found idling outside Lincoln Center or waiting to whisk a Wall Street type home for the evening.
But in a little more than a year, both models will go the way of the Checker cab. Ford Motor Company plans to shutter the Canadian plant that manufactures the cars and discontinue the recognizably bulky frame that gives them their shape.
That means the end for vehicles that have come to symbolize the full spectrum of New York life, from private black sedans purring on Park Avenue to the ubiquitous sight of the yellow cab, great equalizer of the varied urban tribe.
“These cars are a facet of people’s everyday experience,” said David Yassky, the city’s taxi commissioner. “Whatever takes their place will have a real and tangible influence on the city’s aesthetic.”
Passengers should prepare for a bumpier, more cramped ride. Forget roomy trunks that fit a French-door refrigerator; the older models are yielding to smaller gas-and-electric hybrid vehicles with knee-bumping back seats and flimsier frames.
The impending departures have left New York’s livery world scrambling. The Taxi and Limousine Commission is holding a contest to design a new taxicab to replace the city’s 8,200 Crown Victoria yellow taxis. The Police Department will lose a fast-accelerating sedan it has depended on since 1992. And the black-car industry must replace 75 percent of its fleet.
Prophecies of the cars’ demise have come and gone: they survived one death notice in 2006 when Ford moved production from Michigan to Ontario. But widespread regulatory reform and industry financial troubles mean this is the true end of the road.
The company says it concluded that sales would drop off in coming years as more states required police and livery vehicles to meet stricter environmental standards — a high hurdle for gas guzzlers like the Crown Vic and the Town Car, which get about 16 miles a gallon in the city.
Fickle consumer tastes have also played a role: the models sell well with commercial fleets but not individual drivers, who tend to prefer slimmer sedans. One exception is the retiree market in Florida, which has a fondness for Town Cars. (The Crown Vic is now sold only to commercial customers.)
In other words, the lighter, greener hybrid has triumphed. “We need to move onto an improved, more sustainable product,” Rob Stevens, Ford’s chief engineer for commercial vehicles, said in an interview.
But some drivers and fleet owners maintain that the Town Car and Crown Vic are uniquely well suited to their task of comfortably ferrying all manner of city dwellers, from expense-account Wall Street bankers to criminals handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.
“It is large, it is safe, it is easily repairable,” John Acierno, president of the Executive Transportation Group, said of the Town Car, which makes up more than 80 percent of his 1,800-car fleet.
“When you think of a black car or a limousine, your mind’s eye sort of goes to it,” Mr. Acierno said. “If there’s one sitting in front of a building, you think the car is waiting for someone.”
The cars also deliver a particularly smooth ride, die-hards say, thanks to a forgiving suspension and the sturdy steel frame that underlies both models. The Crown Vic’s plush leather back seat can resemble a sofa on wheels.
Replacements have begun to crop up in the city’s fleets, but some owners of yellow cabs say they are unimpressed.
Ronald Sherman, the president of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents 28 large fleet owners, said he had seen would-be taxi passengers ignore Chevrolet Malibu or Ford Escape cabs, opting for a longer wait in order to grab the more spacious Crown Vic. “These minis are ridiculous; passengers do not get into them,” Mr. Sherman said, asserting that the smaller back seat and low headroom made the hybrids uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for riders.
Kevin Healy, another fleet owner, agreed. Of the Volkswagen Jetta, another alternative taxi, he said: “Literally, I can’t get in. And I would need a doctor to get out.”
Despite such objections, New York City’s government is intent on greening its car fleet. A mayoral mandate is in place to depose the big gas guzzlers of yore: commissioners now drive hybrids, and the Police Department has reduced its Crown Victoria count to 1,400 cars today from 1,800 in 2006.
The city also wants to establish fuel emissions standards for taxicabs. Those regulations have been held up in court, but owners have pre-emptively started to adjust. Crown Victorias still account for 60 percent of yellow cabs, but their dominance has been threatened by growing numbers of Ford Escapes (2,637 cabs) and Toyota Sienna minivans (1,381).
The Lincoln Town Car remains a common sight on Park Avenue and outside the city’s gilded corporate headquarters. But there are signs that its clients’ tastes are changing, too.
Only half of the cars idling outside Lincoln Center on a recent weeknight were Lincolns. Instead, well-to-do clients stepped into Cadillacs, Mercedes-Benzes and a BMW.
A similar scene unfolded on a Wednesday morning at the Loews Regency Hotel, at Park Avenue and 62nd Street, where power breakfasters opted for Ford Expeditions, Lexuses and a Toyota Camry hybrid.
For most of the 35 years he has driven his private car in the city as a chauffeur, Ziggy Kingston used a Lincoln. But he recently made the switch to a Prius, saying that his clients, including the 30-minute meal maestro Rachael Ray and the actress Sarah Jessica Parker, often prefer the hybrid.
“It’s a good image for them,” he said, waiting for a pick-up outside the Barclays building in Midtown.
Gesturing toward a nearby Town Car, Mr. Kingston continued, “This was the car you wanted when no one cared about pollution and the mayor didn’t care.” Now, he said, “you got to go with what the environment is good for.”
Fleet owners are unsure about what will replace the Town Car, although Lincoln has created several new models intended for livery use. But none have the same Yao Ming-size legroom or trunk space.
Eager to retain the taxi market, Ford is offering a custom version of its Transit Connect van, whose oblong shape and tall roof resemble a London cab’s. The van gets 22 miles a gallon in the city and comes equipped with big picture windows for a scenic ride. More radical designs have been submitted to the city’s taxi commission, which has solicited ideas for a new taxicab built from scratch, rather than retrofitted from an existing car. The winner, which will not be announced for months, will have the exclusive right to build the city’s cabs for a decade.
Mr. Sherman, who owns a taxi fleet himself, said that his needs, like those of passengers, were simple: “What people are looking for in a taxicab,” he said, “is a safe ride from A to B.”