Driving & Divining the Toyota Avalon

Posted on March 26, 2013 by - Also by this author

After one week of driving the 2013 Toyota Avalon L (livery sedan), I can only reach one overriding conclusion: This vehicle is a sleeping giant for the limousine industry. The Avalon has all the qualities of a high-end luxury sedan. With its reputation for fuel economy, durability and reasonable price, it is a chauffeured vehicle waiting for its prime time.

On Saturday morning, I and a 35-year-old middle manager friend in the aerospace industry took turns chauffeuring each other in the Avalon, enabling each of us 6-foot-plus occasional business travelers to sit in the right rear seat with the right front seat pitched all the way forward. The smooth, quiet ride, V-6 power, and the legroom reminded me of the Cadillac XTS, although the Avalon, priced at about $32,000, does not have all the tech gadgets found on an XTS, priced at $43,495.

So when will be the Avalon’s prime time? I got somewhat of a clue while visiting at the Avalon exhibit on the International LCT Show floor in Las Vegas last month.  A Los Angeles operator was praising all the aspects of the redesigned 2013 livery model, saying how it is perfect in every way, except that it is badged as a Toyota. He told the Toyota representatives to remove the “Toyota” label from the car to widen its appeal in a luxury vehicle market.

That’s a good point, up to a point. My theory is that in the long run, the brand label of a chauffeured vehicle won’t matter as much anymore, since younger generations are not strongly into labels. This diverse, tolerant and techno-connected cohort is not the “Members Only” crowd. An adamant insistence of “only riding in a Lincoln” or “only being seen in a Cadillac” are becoming old-school expressions of vehicle preference, more typical of Baby Boomer clients now dominating the industry clientele instead of the younger ones coming up the career pipeline.

If you told the average American that the Avalon sedan is considered a “low-end” chauffeured vehicle, he, or she, would think you’re a smack-talkin’ snob. Remember, we live in a consumer culture where millionaires wear jeans, middle class women carry designer purses, and even Mitt and Ann Romney shop at Costco. 

So the prime time for the Avalon will happen — in due time. But three trends need to continue playing out:

1) As more members of Gens. X and Y keeping moving into chauffeured client ranks, with many introduced via Uber, they’ll bring more varied and flexible brand loyalties along with a general preference for practical, understated luxury.

2) Limousine companies will gravitate to more tiered-level chauffeured service, using the Avalon and similarly priced luxury sedans to appeal to a cost-conscious chauffeured clientele AND attract a cab-weary taxi clientele willing to pay just a little more for a quality ride. Just as more and more middle class women can afford those designer purses, and even most economy vehicles now offer power features and luxury-style amenities, so will the ground transportation traveling public clue in to chauffeured service versus cabs. Hint: Advertise your services to the masses.

3) Overall, the U.S. is just getting more frugal; we’re burned out on the preening Hollywood mindset and debt-fueled excesses. We’re seeing a paradigm shift away from materialist-, status-driven, showy luxury to a more humble and private approach to life’s pleasures and pursuits. The Toyota brand plays perfectly into that mentality, which is rapidly defining early 21st Century consumer behavior and lifestyles. Many net-worth paper millionaires also drive Camrys.

We’ll have more results and observations from the Toyota Avalon test rides in the June issue of LCT Magazine.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

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