WITH foot-deep potholes, jagged pavement and rough cobblestones reminiscent of the rough-riding streets of the meatpacking district, the road is unmistakably New York — except for the road runners and coyotes.
This is New York Avenue near Stanfield, Ariz., built by Nissan engineers on the company’s 3,050-acre proving ground to test and toughen the next generation of New York City taxicabs. In May, the Taxi and Limousine Commission chose the Nissan NV200 van as its Taxi of Tomorrow, which will be phased in as the city’s sole taxi model over five years starting in late 2013. The cab’s final design is still being worked out.
“We created New York Avenue to mimic the rugged streets here,” Joe Castelli, the Nissan Americas vice president for light commercial vehicles, said in an interview during a visit to the city.
A prototype of the interior was recently displayed near the Flatiron Building in Manhattan to solicit citizen suggestions. The new taxi will have USB ports and power outlets for the electronic devices of passengers. The exterior will be painted a slightly brighter shade of yellow than the one on the city’s current taxi fleet.
The NV200 was chosen over two other finalists, the Ford TransitConnect and a design by Karsan, a Turkish automobile manufacturer. Nissan is cooperating with the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and the Design Trust for Public Space on the final design and development.
Mr. Castelli says that because the new taxi is based on a commercial vehicle it will get much more road testing — some 400,000 miles — than a typical passenger car would receive. Many of those miles will be on New York Avenue, a quarter-mile strip of nasty pavement at the company’s facility some 60 miles south of Phoenix. The site includes a 5.2-mile high-speed banked racing track and other features.
Mr. Castelli said he visited the test ground last month. “Basically you go to Phoenix and turn right and head for the desert,” he said.
The Nissan test facility already had special stretches for measuring ride problems like “freeway hop.” But New York City poses special problems, Mr. Castelli said, because it “has some of the worst streets and potholes.” He added, “We wanted to have uneven surfaces, because vehicles going around a corner have a tendency to slide a little bit from one pavement to another.”
The extensive testing in Arizona is part of a wider development process, Mr. Castelli said. This fall, designers and executives met with medallion owners, driver operators and passengers.
“We also do other kinds of testing,” Mr. Castelli said, like placing vehicles on four post machines that shake and twist them. “What is critical is the long-term durability of the vehicle.”
Steve Monk, the director of vehicle testing at the proving ground, said: “There are a couple of things we are doing that are unique for the taxi. We have made several trips to the city, collecting data on road surfaces. We have looked at the drivers’ style — how aggressively they are accelerating and braking on different road surfaces.
“We also want to understand operation cycles, like how many times a day a door is opened and closed and how many times someone slides across a seat over a two- or three-year period.”
Nissan estimates that the cab’s rear sliding doors will be slammed shut 300,000 times during the vehicle’s street duty.
Vehicles other than NV200 mules roll along New York Avenue, including banged-up examples of the city’s long-reigning taxi, the Ford Crown Victoria, retired from taxi service. “It is a strange sight to see yellow taxis with the ad boards still on them running around the proving ground,” Mr. Monk said.
Nissan bought several veteran Crown Vics to see how they had stood up to the rigors of regular use. “We want to use it a reference point,” he added.
The company also bought back Nissan Altima taxicabs to study.
Mr. Monk said the idea of New York Avenue began several years ago, before the taxi project. Even then the company was aware from driver surveys and examinations of cars it had put into taxi fleets that New York streets provided particularly rigorous conditions.
“We were getting a few specific ride-comfort complaints from our existing passenger vehicles in the New York area, outside expectations,” he said. “The complaints stood out from the results anywhere else in the country. So we decided to replicate a section of New York at the proving ground.”
Mr. Monk said the template for what became New York Avenue was a section of Guy R. Brewer Boulevard, a rugged commercial stretch north of Kennedy Airport named for a former local assemblyman.
“Thankfully, I believe it was repaired afterwards,” he added.
The Arizona facility also has a section that simulates Belgian block pavement and large ditches filled with water. The urban hazards in Arizona are spiced with natural ones. The potholes sometimes shelter diamondback rattlesnakes. “We get everything from scorpions, even in the office, to rattlesnakes in the spring,” Mr. Monk said. “Whole families of coyotes live here.”
Nissan has not yet delivered any of the cabs it will provide under its 10-year contract with the city. But it is already using its taxi’s New York street cred as a selling point for the NV200. The company hopes to find customers beyond the 13,000-plus medallion holders in New York.
Mr. Castelli said he had learned that two of India’s largest taxi companies had decided to use the NV200 because they heard it was being used in New York.
“One of the ads we are running around the world shows a picture of the taxi on one side and the cargo van on the other. The line is, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.’ So two years ahead of it actually appearing on the streets, we are already marketing it on the New York nomenclature.”
Mr. Monk has another sort of tie to the city. “I probably got involved in this project because even though I grew up in southeast Texas I am a Yankees fan,” he said. He scheduled his research trips to the city accordingly.
“My trips are always based on the Yankees home schedule,” he said. But when he goes to the Bronx he doesn’t hail a cab. Because he likes to mingle with his fellow Yankee fans, he said, “I always take the train.”