ILCT Show 2008: A Big Power Boost
By Martin Romjue
The bustling ILCT Show at Mandalay Bay March 16-19 certainly lacked the appearance of a recession. While the R word passed the lips of some participants, the Show floor was packed with vendors and coachbuilders as registration reached peak levels. Several coachbuilders told me they had closed some good sales deals on limousines. And the diversity of vehicles was a testament to this industry’s creativity and ability to satisfy all market tastes. This industry still packs a lot of power.
The theme of Ignite Your Passion resonated in the enthusiasm of attendees at the First Timers Lunch on Monday sponsored by Cadillac. I sat at a table of younger, newer operators who remain hopeful and positive about their chauffeured vehicle careers. It was encouraging to see these entrepreneurs benefitting from the connections and expertise offered by LCT Magazine, the NLA, and its diverse mix of industry supporters.
Likewise, I talked to several foreign operators from German, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and the U.K. They all made a point that they see more of each other and make better connections by flying all the way to the ILCT Show in Las Vegas than trying to meet up somewhere in Western Europe. The European entrepreneurs reflect an interesting dichotomy: wanting to learn from the expertise of the American chauffeured transportation industry and building affiliate connections while also being more progressive in adapting to challenging circumstances.
For example, most European operators offer diesel vehicles in their fleets; all are ready to go greener as soon as possible; and they carefully choose the size of their vehicles given the abundance of narrow roads and streets throughout Europe. In fact, the European Union increasingly discourages use of stretch limousines beyond six passengers given the EU’s aggressive green regulations and traffic limits.
And while gas prices are spooking the industry, my interview with Dean De Beer, the president and CEO of Tristar Worldwide Chauffeur Services in London, puts some things into perspective. While gas prices heading toward $4 gallon is a horrendous burden to American operators, De Beer’s company pays $8.25 per gallon for diesel fuel. A gasoline chauffeured car may get on average 16-18 mpg, but a diesel one gets 28-30 mpg. Yet De Beer still manages to operate a successful and profitable company despite the higher prices. He assured me that the clunky diesel engines of the 1980s are a thing of the past; the noise, performance, quality, and speed are no different than gasoline V-8s. So the chauffered car industry should not hit the panic button; eventually, as so many panelists and speakers at the Show predict, the industry will find cheaper, more efficient fuel alternatives.
Lastly, the final night of this year’s Show in a way demonstrated the resiliency of the limousine and chauffeured industry. LCT’s gala party night coincided with a massive power outage on the Las Vegas strip. Our chauffeur who later drove us back to McCarran International Airport commented that such a disruption happens about once every 10 years. Apparently, some shifts along a fault line near Las Vegas damaged a key transformer, cutting power to much of the massive Mandalay Bay complex, including all 34 floors of the main hotel towers, and several other mega-casino resorts along Las Vegas Boulevard. Power was out from 7:42 p.m. to about midnight. Fortunately, the power was not lost in Mandalay’s convention wing where ILCT’s annual industry awards gala was in full swing. Nor did it cut the lights and throbbing pulsations at the Rumjungle nightclub, where Krystal Enterprises of Brea, Ca. hosted the industry’s climactical and primal party night. Since none of us had any practical way to get back to our dark, stuffy rooms many floors up, guests had extra incentive to stay late and drink and appreciate the nubile, scantily clad dancers gyrating in dangling cages and swinging on trapezes above the jovial, ogling morass. Of course, the casino benefitted from the emergency generator power as well, making sure no money was lost that night. About midnight, the lobby and casino was still full of wandering guests, many lined up at elevators and some attempting the upward stairs climb with security people equipped with flashlights. I saw one unfortunate bride in a wedding dress nearly trip up three people whose feet accidentally got caught up in the surplus of her floor length gown. At least the hotel’s distributed bottled water was an all you can drink special. The power eventually returned, and by 1 a.m. all was well with elevators lifting, rooms cooling, and Rum-junglers snoozing.
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