New Bangkok icon? This Toyota Thai Taxi LPG HEV concept is a different kind of hybrid, in ways a pink Corolla Altis taxi can never be
Sanjay · Mar 27, 2023 02:31 PM
Bespoke products, whether it's a well-tailored suit or something handcrafted behind Maranello's gates, are always something to behold. The beauty of them lies in their focus in excelling at that one specific purpose.
Generally it's something only the opulent get to experience. But the Toyota JPN Taxi, in all its taxi-ness, breaks that mould. Created based on an emissions and accessibility mandate – as well as a way to meet 'universal design' goals – it's been around since 2017 with the sole purpose of being the magnum opus of public car transport.
Currently it's only serving in Japan and Hong Kong, but Toyota is trialling a few units in Bangkok this month.
Made to do one thing excellently
Despite being bluntly named as the Thai Taxi, its packaging is anything but unimaginative. Yes the bulbous shape and odd door arrangement (three regular ones, one sliding on the left-hand side) may take some getting used to but it's all for the sake of practicality.
Plus the interior is like one big Lego set – the rear bench, for example, folds upwards so as to not trouble the wheelchair-bound to move into the car and sit in place, all without getting out of their wheelchair. Or if the person sitting in front needs more cargo space; whichever is necessary at any given time.
And the boot space is more than enough to fit three or four large luggage bags.
Flexibility of passenger space aside, concessions are also made for the driver. Well he only gets a fabric seat – which really isn't too bad – but the difference between this and any normal car is how everything is grouped together for easy access.
The steering wheel for example houses the hazard light button, while air-conditioning and everything else are controlled by a panel next to the driver.
Above all, this thoughtfulness of what a taxi ought to be also sees significant upgrades to its engine and suspension components. Its MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension are designed specifically to be extra durable, while the power water pump is of the no-maintenance variety.
Why still stick with LPG hybrids?
Under the hood of the Thai Taxi lies quite a unique powertrain – an LPG-electric hybrid. Liquified Petroleum Gas as its long name goes, is essentially the cooking gas we have at home.
LPG has its use in taxis because it's a much cheaper fuel: averaging THB 15 per litre (~RM 1.94/L), it's about half the price of regular gasohol (91 octane starts from THB 36.64 per litre, or ~RM 4.78/L).
But beyond dollars and cents, having a diverse mix of powertrains is also Toyota's way of approaching carbon neutrality. You could say zero emissions, or going electric is best, but in the interim you can't quite expect taxi drivers to sit around waiting for their car to charge right?
Time is money, and at the very surface the benefits of having an LPG HEV is multi-fold: existing infrastructure can be used, the driving experience isn't all too different, and there's immediate decarbonisation (especially important in Thailand where commercial vehicles make up 54% of all vehicles on the road).
In the case of this Thai Taxi though, the savings are stacked with the addition of a hybrid system, which mates the 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated engine (1NZ-FXP, 75 PS/111 Nm) to a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery and a pair of 61 PS/169 Nm electric motors.
Total system output is rated at 100 PS, and Toyota claims that it is capable of a fuel consumption figure of 5.15 litres/100 km (19.4 km/litre) on the Japanese JC08 cycle.
What's it like to drive? It's a smooth operator, and for all intents and purposes there's no difference to a regular petrol car. Acceleration, aided by hybrid power, is brisk from a standstill.
But we'd rather be sitting at the back though – the expansive head- and legroom plus large windows make for a uniquely cossetting experience when combined with the pillowy seats.
Will it be sold in our part of the world?
This is a question that's yet to be answered for sure, as in its current form the Thai Taxi doesn't quite fit Thai legislation. Work has to be done in order get it all legal, but there's a nice incentive at the end of the road – cleaner, greener taxis for all.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.