NOVEMBER 2012 LCT: As we barrel through the final quarter of 2012, I can point to three memorable experiences this year that show how chauffeured fleet vehicle trends are being rewired. Altogether, these episodes allude to the passing of a vehicle-purchasing hierarchy and the advent of a messier, more “democratic” marketplace.
In the first episode, our International LCT Show last February offered the widest variety of chauffeured corporate vehicles to date to limousine operators. Newcomers Chrysler, BMW and Hyundai, along with the debuts of the livery perfected Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKT Town Car, plus the stalwart Mercedes-Benz and emerging Toyota models, are creating a vibrant successor market to the retired Lincoln Town Car and Cadillac DTS sedans.
In the second episode in September, the Greater California Livery Association held another annual vehicle expo that underscores the many sedans and vehicles available amid intense buyer interest. Like the ILCT Show, this heavily attended tradeshow event drew the Chrysler 300 Limited sedan into its mix.
In my third experience, I have ridden in or driven a wider variety of chauffeured vehicles this year than any other to date. During a visit to San Francisco Bay Area operators in August, I rode in the following vehicles over a span of a few days: Lincoln Navigator, Lincoln Town Car Executive L, Lexus RX Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz E350, Lincoln MKT Town Car, and the GMC Yukon Hybrid. I spoke with chauffeurs and operators about all the brands, old and new. Since last fall, I’ve driven the Mercedes-Benz S350, the BMW 535i GT, the BMW 750Li, and most recently, the Cadillac XTS sedan.
The operators buying and running these vehicles prove how the chauffeured vehicle market is becoming more diverse with companies trying out different makes and models while listening to their clients and trying to figure out what they like.
That has brought out a silver lining to the retirement of the beloved Town Car Executive L: A market once defined and dominated by the six-inch stretched Lincoln sedan has now yielded to more competition, more choices for operators and clients, and more flexibility in matching client preferences with more vehicle brands, pricing tiers, and service levels than ever before.
We can conclude that it is unlikely the limousine industry will return anytime soon to the pre-2012 1-2-3 industry world order of Lincoln-Cadillac-Mercedes-Benz. Along with observations from behind the wheel and the backseat, I’ve been speaking with and hearing about operators all year on their emerging vehicle preferences and choices.
I know of operators switching from Cadillac to Lincoln and vice-versa; operators clinging to one or the other but adding Chrysler 300 Limited sedans; as well as operators deploying the Hyundai Genesis and the Toyota Avalon, thereby considering newer non-luxury label models that nevertheless offer the same amenities amid better fuel economy.
“The Town Car closing has helped us; now we can say we have different options,” says operator Goldie Bhullar of Angel Worldwide Transportation near Oakland, Calif. Bhullar describes a more nuanced and responsive approach to chauffeured service likely to gain ground. So far, Angel Worldwide is banking on variety to serve clients; it has bought Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans, a Lexus RX Hybrid, and Lincoln MKT Town Cars, while still retaining a few Executive Ls.
Across the Bay in Redwood City, located between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Mosaic Global Transportation operator Maurice Brewster bought his first MKT Town Cars in August following the purchase of a few Chrysler 300 Limited sedans earlier in the year. As I reported in another article in this issue, Brewster says he likes the MKT’s technology accesses, while appreciating the refined, Bentley look of the 300.
Something for everyone — that’s become the defining paradigm for consumer products and services. Now, the chauffeured transportation industry is taking on more such qualities of a 21st Century marketplace.
You’ll see this unprecedented vehicle variety on display once again at the 2013 International LCT Show (www.lctshow.com) Feb. 5-7 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. As each passing year adds to the mileage of the remaining Town Cars and DTS sedans, look for some more defined opinions and bold purchases among operators on the trade show floor.
Stronger competition, more choices, and wider client tastes — that is good fortune for manufacturers, dealers, operators and clients overall.
-- Martin Romjue, LCT editor
The more casual and coarse society gets, the more chauffeured service can gleam with a counter-couture-culture.