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Taxi of Tomorrow — QFD perspective

In November 2010, New York City launched a "Taxi of Tomorrow" design contest to replace the aging fleet of Ford Crown Victorias. The winner would enjoy a huge business opportunity - the exclusive right to supply the city's yellow taxis for 10 years.

To put in perspective, the taxi industry in New York City has over 50,000 licensed taxi drivers and 13,437 licensed vehicles, serving over 500,000 passengers per day, or 236 million taxi passengers per year, according to the "2014 Taxicab Fact Book" issued by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).

The contest officials laid out these criteria for selecting the winner:

Ford, Nissan, and Turkey's Karsan made the finalists.

photos of Karsan, Ford, Nissan models

When the finalist designs were put to vote in surveys, Karsan's design, with the sleek Plexiglas top and wheelchair accessibility, won the heart of New Yorkers with overwhelming 65.5% vote, while cab owners voted for Ford perhaps because of their familiarity with the company's present products.

Then came the final and unexpected decision: Taxi and Limousine Commission and officials governing the city's taxi industry selected Nissan as the winner. One blogger even wrote, "After going to the public and taxi cab owners, the city settled on the one design nobody else liked, the Nissan NV."

Why did Karsan and Ford lose? Based on many published reports, it was not the case of these two finalists being able to meet the criteria less satisfactory than the winner.

In terms of track record, Ford TransitConnect is the only model that has been used as a taxi all over in the US. Nissan NV is essentially a passenger van in Japan, never before outfitted as a taxi or road-tested in the US. Karsan's V1 is "the only model that was designed from a scratch" as a taxi vehicle for this contest. Karsan's track record is not shabby, either. Although the brand is not well known outside Turkey, they supply to Hyundai, Peugeot, Citroen and Renault. [CNN Tech, December 6, 2010, by Catriona Davies].

Was the origin of the vehicle a decisive factor? No, said one commissioner. While the Nissan NV 200 will be produced in Tennessee, the Ford Transit Connect will be shipped from Turkey. Karsan, at one point, even offered to produce V1 taxis in Brooklyn if their design was selected.

So, what happened?

We admit having no insider knowledge on the regulatory or political considerations of the decision making involved. But three things that we noticed from a QFD perspective might help future contestants in a similar situation:

  1. Customers vs. Stakeholders.
    The new ISO 16355 includes both customers and stakeholders. In many situations, both have needs that must be addressed to some degree, and prioritizing customers and stakeholders may be done with the analytic hierarchy process (AHP). Customers include riders, drivers, and mechanics. Stakeholders include the TCL and owners in this case. This concern also came up in "Context Sensitive Solutions" (PDF) for civil and military construction projects. In QFD, not only should the customers and stakeholders be prioritized, but so should their needs.

  2. Voice of Customer: Needs or Features?
    The contest's judgment criteria can be used as the Voice of Customer (VOC), but are these customer needs or product features?  Raw VOC data contain many different types of information even though they appear all customer needs to the untrained eyes. QFD Green Belts® and Black Belt would notice immediately that the judging criteria of the contest included product features as well as specifications (durability, fuel economy, etc.). This is a case of what Glenn Mazur calls "bonehead specs."  The role of the QFD practitioners and product producers is to recognize this problem and do a better analysis to uncover the "true" customer needs, both "stated" and "unstated" needs. Modern QFD tools provide specific tools to translate these types of VOC data and specifications into customer needs which should be the basis of your product development, not specs or features.

  3. Prioritizing Customer Needs
    While customers and stakeholders like to claim that all needs (or criteria) are equally important, we should validate this claim using a forced-choice comparison. Since 1987, QFD experts have used AHP to have customers prioritize their needs. AHP in modern QFD offers several benefits:
    1. It is more accurate than a rating scale, since customers are forced to choose between pairs of needs. This makes it more difficult to rate everything the same.
    2. It produces ratio-scale results rather than ordinal scale results. Ratio scale numbers support later QFD calculations such as +, -, x, /.  Ordinal scale numbers only support mode (count) and median (50th percentile).
    3. It is easy for customers to use. We can use the customer-build hierarchy diagram to limit the number of comparisons customers need to make, but starting at the most abstract level of the hierarchy and only pursuing high value branches.

Since two of the candidate vehicles -- Ford and Karsan, were Turkish, and both lost the contest despite passenger and cab owner delight, it would seem that the criteria/needs of the TLC (New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission) should have also been considered using the QFD methods described above. In ten years, perhaps the results will be different.

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