Why are most of the taxis in Hong Kong the exact same model?
All hail the Toyota Crown Comfort, the humble vehicle that’s hauled us all home from hundreds of late nights, or carted us hungover to work the next morning. The Toyota Crown Comfort, most regal chariot—unless you want to cross the harbor, of course.
In the old days, taxis were less tightly regulated and you’d see a wide range of colors and models on the streets. The government began regulating their appearance in 1974, decreeing the silver-and-red color scheme still in use today. In fact, there’s no actual law stipulating the model of car used as a taxi—and indeed, you’ll see the occasional Nissan, Ford Transit van or Prius taxi around town. But an extraordinary majority of all Hong Kong taxis are Crown Comforts.
It’s an astonishingly successful model, in production since 1995—and recently updated in 2001 to a more environmentally friendly LPG version. Indeed, Toyota has had a pretty effective monopoly on the market ever since squeezing Nissan out of town a decade ago. Repeated attempts by other manufacturers to break in have all ended in failure.
So why are they so popular? A few reasons, all of which boil down to cost. Firstly, a new Toyota Crown Comfort costs around $230,000—approximately $20,000 less than the Ford Transits introduced last year.
Then there’s the sheer number of Crown Comforts in Hong Kong’s taxi ecosystem: If the vast majority of the 18,000 cabs in Hong Kong are Crown Comforts, then you’re working with economies of scale. Any garage mechanic could service one blindfold, and would have plenty of spare parts on hand—all the more so because the same models are used as taxis in Japan, too. When Japanese taxis are retired, often they’re broken apart and make their way to Hong Kong to be used in our cars.
So the next time you tumble out of a taxi after a night of revelry, take the time to thank the Crown Comfort for getting you home quickly, safely and cheaply. And for God’s sake, throw up outside the vehicle. Spare parts may come cheap, but they don’t come free.
The jewel in the Crown