By Gary Buiso
The Turkish taxi was a turkey, Mayor Bloomberg announced on Tuesday — but now its Brooklyn supporters are crying foul.
The next fleet of taxis will be manufactured by Nissan after the city ruled out both Ford and Karsan, a Turkish outfit that pledged to open an assembly plant in Sunset Park.
The controversial decision awards the Japanese company a $1-billion contract, despite the promise of hundreds of Brooklyn jobs and the Big Apple’s first auto plant in nearly a century.
The news made Karsan boosters blow a gasket, charging a conflict of interest in the so-called “Taxi of Tomorrow” competition.
“The administration is giving away a $1-billion contract … without seeking any commitments for investment in our local and national economies,” said Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, who, along with Borough President Markowitz, is demanding an investigation into why the Taxi and Limousine Commission asked a consulting firm that was working with Ford and Nissan to give a supposely unbiased assessment of all three finalists.
“This failure … cast serious doubts on the legitimacy of the final decision,” DeBlasio said.
The consultant, Ricardo Inc., had issued a damning report that found that Karsan posed the “highest risk” choice of the three candidates, casting doubts on whether it could successfully fulfill the obligations of a 10-year contract, according to the New York Times.
Karsan is “a new manufacturer, with a new manufacturing paradigm, not familiar with the U.S. regulatory framework, with no current sales, service or support infrastructure,” the report stated — predictably, according to DeBlasio and Markowitz.
Bloomberg rejected the critics.
“There are no conflicts as far as I can tell,” Bloomberg said, adding that the decision came down to the merits, as Karsan would not have not enough time to get a factory up and running to get new cabs on the road by 2013.
“It shows the difficulty of an overseas company to understand how New York works and how you do things in New York,” the mayor said. “Karsan’s plan was just not practical.”
That didn’t sit well with Markowitz, who said the city “could have done better,” and wondered why the company made it all the way to the finals if it was so impractical.
The Nissan cabs cost about $29,000 each — the cheapest of the three, and will be made in Mexico, with some assembly in North America — though not in Brooklyn.
Only Karsan’s bid, as this news outlet first reported in February, brings the possibility of jobs to an auto plant in Sunset Park — the city’s first since the Studebaker factory in Harlem was sold off in the 1930s for use as a Borden dairy plant.
On Sunday, Markowitz organized an automotive lovefest for Karsan, hailing the jobs the company would park in Brooklyn.
The assembly work would have been done in partnership with the Axis Group, which already operates a non-manufacturing facility for imported cars at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal at 39th Street and the waterfront.
Up to 300 new jobs would have been created to start, with more expected based on additional orders, a Karsan spokesman had said.
A road-ready model of the Karsan V1 stood idle as its praises were sung at the rally, its bulky lines soaking up the morning sun. A cut-out section of the cab displayed its spacious interior, and easily accommodated Markowitz and other pols who piled in to pose for photographers.
The cab has been a hit with its would-be passengers, selected by 65-1/2 percent of those who took an online passenger survey.
It’s also won the backing of the disabled community, as the cab is the only one of the trio that was completely wheelchair accessible off the assembly line.
“It’s amazing — and I’ll be able to go wherever I want,” said Elizabeth Ramos, an East New York resident who suffers from scoliosis and has been confined to a wheelchair for the last seven years. “It’s a dream come true.”
Taxi drivers have the option of paying more to equip their Nissan NV200 to make them handicap accessible, the mayor said.