‘Taxi of Tomorrow’ doesn’t live up to tomorrow’s realities

By all appearances, Nissan’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” — which has just made its debut in advance of the New York International Auto Show — is a comfortable, user-friendly and well-engineered vehicle. It’s just too bad it doesn’t live up to its “tomorrow” moniker in terms of fuel efficiency.

Yes, as even the Natural Resources Defense Council has pointed out, at 25 miles per gallon, the 2014 Nissan NV200 Taxi is nearly twice as fuel-efficient as the previous NYC taxi vehicle of choice, the Ford Crown Victoria. And, yes, Nissan has said an electric-only version of the NV200 could start coming off the assembly lines in 2017. But if the last few years of sustainability research should have taught us anything, it’s that incremental improvements like this aren’t good enough, not anymore.

“Clearly, although there are plenty of technologies out there which could be used to improve fuel economy, insufficient progress is being made,” said Sheila Watson, executive director of the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), upon release of its latest report last year.

“As consumption accelerates everywhere and world population rises, it is no longer sufficient to work towards a distant ideal of sustainable development,” states the first-ever “State of the Planet” declaration issued by an international group of scientists last month.

“A dozen years into the twenty-first century we have little time left to bring the world’s population — now 7 billion and counting — to a shared prosperity without bequeathing future humanity an overheated, resource-scarce, biologically impoverished planet,” writes Worldwatch Institute president Robert Engelman in the preface to the “State of the World 2012” report due to be released next week.

“The door is closing to achieving climate change goals which limit temperature increases to 2°C, and on our current path by 2017 we will have ‘locked in’ the energy sector’s carbon allowance,” notes the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2011.” “(D)elaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions. The sooner we get going, the easier and cheaper our task will be; 2012 will therefore be a crucial year.”

Considering the “locked-in” deadline of 2017 is also the year Nissan said it could start making an electric version of its taxi, it seems obvious the “tomorrow-ness” of the NV200 is anything but.

And it’s not like we haven’t been hearing this stuff for a while now. Back in 2008, Australian researcher Graham Turner wrote this after comparing 30 years of ongoing developments with forecasts made in the 1972 “Limits to Growth” study: “the global system is on an unsustainable trajectory unless there is substantial and rapid reduction in consumptive behavior, in combination with technological progress.”

Not to pick on Nissan, since you could throw a dart randomly at any global corporation and find similar, incremental improvements in efficiency taking place there as well. It’s just that when you tack on an “of Tomorrow” on anything, you should really be sure you’re actually taking real-world expectations of tomorrow into account.

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