2012 marks the year the chauffeured vehicle marketplace opens up to new models and brands that will hit the streets and define service for years to come. In the January 2012 issue, we detail the latest entrant, the Cadillac XTS sedan, set to debut in two weeks at the 2012 International LCT Show in Las Vegas.
As seen at the rollout of the retail version during the Los Angeles Auto Show last November, the streamlined XTS makes major strides in severing ties to the DTS/DeVille sedan gliders of yore. The XTS unveiling comes just one short year after the debut of another trend-setter, the Lincoln MKT Town Car, also a radical departure from a previous generation of luxury vehicles.
With the two lead vehicles in the industry being replaced in such a short time, the marketplace has become more like a chaotic bazaar, with new competitors and models suddenly vying for the chauffeured vehicle spend. This Show in particular will be a shoppers’ delight, featuring an open-air market full of all the vehicles competing in the vacuum left by the departures of the Lincoln Town Car Executive L and Cadillac DTS. Both ended production just three months apart last year to much hand-wringing and fanfare.
Of course, as in any open-air marketplace, there’s plenty of swirling speculation, opinions, and give-and-take about all the dynamic products. So I’d like to try clearing up some of the clutter in this new chauffeured vehicle bazaar, as brand perceptions change.
First, the era of mourning the Town Car should be over. No more weeping or gnashing of teeth. The stalwart performer did well for its time, but new influences are reshaping the market. We know about the effects of the Great Recession and 9/11 on the economy, the industry and client vehicle choices. But there are also larger social forces moving in, namely a new generation of chauffeured clients defining the marketplace. Today’s Gen X and Y professionals (read: ages 46 and under, i.e. current and future clients) think differently about vehicles and have developed a distinct set of expectations.
Some skepticism is also warranted toward top-paying Baby Boomer clients (ages 47 to 66) being overly fond of the Town Car. The lifestyle 411 on Baby Boomers is that they instinctively resist aging or anything “old-school,” as evidenced by their collective embrace of youthful products, services, remedies and styles. Just look at the jeans they wear, the cars and motorcycles they drive, the places they vacation — it’s all about preserving and prolonging a youthful flair. Even the age 68-plus Rolling Stones are going on a 50th anniversary world tour this year, thank goodness.
Bottom line: Town Cars and traditional looking sedans are no longer perceived as up-to-date or cutting-edge. The Town Car increasingly looks and feels old-school. More likely than not, today’s 26-, 28-, 32-year-old up-and-coming professionals — many of whom will advance in their careers to being chauffeured corporate clients — grew up with an SUV or minivan in the family and now drive starter cars such as a Honda Element, Toyota Scion, Toyota Rav4, or Nissan Cube. Five of the top 10 cars for young people ranked by U.S. News & World Report are compact hatchbacks. Younger gens also like sporty sedans, including the Ford Fusion, the Acura TSX and the Cadillac CTS.
What do such preferences indicate? No. 1: Younger gens don’t have hang-ups about the new “boxy” vehicles; and No. 2: A sedan in their eyes must be sporty. Now, what has been the leading complaint among operators about the Lincoln MKT Town Car? Looks like a boxy station wagon. But according to the vehicle preferences of Gens X and Y: So what? There’s a reason all the leading Japanese automakers fell over each other promoting boxy “cube” cars to this demo group: The vehicles are practical, efficient, and affordable, while catering to active lifestyles.
Does anyone seriously think a future chauffeured client with a positive view of boxy vehicles and sporty sedans will pine after a Town Car or a DTS when ordering chauffeured service? Chances are he or she will be far more receptive to the MKT crossover and its gadgets than you think. And while the Cadillac XTS technically is a sedan, it is smooth and sporty, capitalizing on the positive reputations the Escalade SUV and CTS models enjoy among younger consumers because of the vehicles’ high profile in movies such as the Matrix series, and among musicians, rappers, actors, and pro athletes.
As a “senior” Gen Xer, I never hear any desire for big, traditional sedans among my age peers. Strong preferences for SUVs, CUVs, pick-ups, and foreign-built sport sedans abound. The Lincoln MKT and the Cadillac XTS, whatever their quirks, speak to this era of new brand preferences. Loaded with technology and crisp, graphical instrument displays, these restyled vehicles provide a mix of sophistication and premium comfort, while achieving higher performance with more efficiency and a slightly smaller chassis.
Smart, practical, understated. Welcome to the new 2010s client values of the luxury chauffeured world.
Martin Romjue, LCT editor
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