27 September 2015

Taxi of Tomorrow failing on today's needs?

Last year we discussed the "Taxi of Tomorrow," New York City's taxi design contest. We called attention to the peril of new product development without understanding stakeholders and offered some QFD perspectives.

Now that the winning model (Nissan) is being rolled out to replace the aging fleet of NYC cabs, are New Yorkers happy? Not so fast. The debate continues.

Nissan minivan - the winner of Taxi of Tomorrow contest
Taxi of Tomorrow
Nissan NV200
photo: mr.chopper / wikipedia

The Nissan model (photo right), based on a Japanese family van never tested in a commercial fleet until now, offers features such as a spacious interior, rear seat airbags, driver GPS, and charging ports for electronic devices.

The critics complained that the Nissan model is only a gasoline fueled vehicle (at least for now) and does not offer wheelchair accessibility.

Intriguingly, it caught our eyes that the contest decision makers (politicians, taxi and limousine commissioners, industry leaders) gravitated toward the established, practical product features for the final selection, such as Safety, Comfort, Passenger and Driver Amenities, and Economy.

In the pre-decision survey, the general public additionally voiced these important features: Environmental friendliness and forward-looking design fit for the international center of business, arts, and tourism.

What neither party articulated, during and after the contest, were the true needs of customers, especially the "latent" needs.

That may be why Uber, Lyft, and others are able to make a dent in the market share of traditional taxis. Note here, what types of vehicle it is or what amenities it is equipped with are no longer the differentiating points in this new competition.

This may come as shocking to those who worked hard to bring the winning design onto the streets of Manhattan. But with the entry of this new app-based, on-demand competition, the physical features that the Taxi of Tomorrow has focused have become irrelevant — as if the Taxi of Tomorrow addresses the needs of yesterday!

The city officials are hopeful the new taxi will bring back customers, but it seems they need more than an eye-catching new design to successfully compete in this new market.

How can they turn the Taxi of Tomorrow truly live up to its name?