The eighty-fifth anniversary of the Cadillac limousine was marked in 1991. Carey Limousine reached its seventieth anniversary, and Don Dailey celebrated his twentieth anniversary as Carey’s president. Dav-EI Livery observed its twentieth year since being founded by David Klein. The National Limousine Association marked its sixth birthday, and Limousine & Chauffeur Magazine turned eight.
The twentieth year of coachbuilding for Earle Moloney of Chicago Armor & Limousine was also marked in 1991. The tenth year for Gualberto Diaz of Picasso Coach, and the fifteenth anniversary for Executive Coachbuilders were also celebrated. American Custom Coachworks completed its 40th year.
For many in the livery industry, 1991 was another year of challenge. The Gulf War interrupted air travel which, in turn, greatly reduced the need for ground transportation. As travel gradually resumed in the latter three quarters of the year, however, the livery business began to show signs of life. To provide a firsthand perspective on the past year, Limousine & Chauffeur asked livery operators and suppliers for their views on what 1991 meant for their company, as well as for the industry.
Matthew Baines - Limousine Werks: My feeling is that, obviously, the market is soft. That’s not anything new. But I also think the opportunity for the limousine buyer has never been better. He can get a better limousine for a better price than he’s ever gotten in his life.
AI Tortora - Empire Coach/Tortora Limousine: I think I saw two edges... One edge, I’ve see customers today who are a lot smarter. They’re more aware of what their dollars will buy. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of customers who have absolutely run their equipment into the ground and are now looking to trade in worthless, broken-down vehicles that have 385,000 miles and he only changed the oil three times.
You don’t see brand new start-up operations anymore. You don’t see the four or five fellows who get together and buy a limo as a second business. And we haven’t gotten a lot of fix-ups of older cars. In ’88, it used to pay to fix up an ’84 Lincoln because it looked like new. With the body change, the older cars have become obsolete. In 1993, we’ll probably be refurbishing ’90 Lincolns.
Marsha Tortora - Empire Coach/ Tortora Limousine: 1991 for me was a better year than 1990. I think that it’s projecting an upswing in the economy. But it’s still very, very slow on the retail end in the livery business. People are starting to change equipment they bought from me in 1988. These are established companies and they’re just starting to come around. These are people who used to change their equipment every other year. There has been a big shakeout among both livery operators and coachbuilders. People who are going to stay in business know that they have to update.
One reason we did better this year is that we are manufacturing cars together with Gaines. I took on a lot of their people. They had some advanced technologies that we didn’t. They had a very good electrical system and an excellent woodshop. They are now part of my operation. And, of course, we had a very fine structural design so we now have a very viable end product. Plus, we now have service facilities in both the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Gabe Prio - Dornan Uniforms: I found a lot of readjustment where larger companies were able to cut back, smaller companies working out of the house with a low overhead were able to survive, and I found the biggest change came in the five to 20 car operations. They were hit the hardest because they had maybe one or two employees in the office where you couldn’t really cut down. today, you can’t afford to make a mistake. You have to make a plan, and stick to it.
But people are still buying chauffeur uniforms. In fact, they seem to be upgrading from polyester suits to poly-wool. Polyester is durable, wrinkle-resistant, and people have used it for a long time … and now they’re looking for something to complement and upgrade their wardrobe.
Alan Shanedling - Barrons Fleetwood Transportation, Los Angeles:
This has been a difficult year and we’re treading very cautiously. There’s more sedan work. More price-consciousness from clients and lower rates from competitors. We’re also finding it more difficult to get people to attend meetings and pay dues for our association.
Scott Solombrino - Dav-EI Livery, Boston: I think that a lot of people had to take a good long look at every aspect of their business. They had to shop carefully for their car deals. They had to shop better for their insurance and people had to get more aggressive in marketing their business.
They had to go out and find customers rather than expecting them to show up on their doorstep. And I think people who did that are the ones who are still here. The industry is now left with the stronger people who run good businesses... whether they run one car or 100. And I think these people will continue to survive because I believe that 1991 was the bottom of the recession for the limousine industry.
Dick Hundley - Limousine Connection, Los Angeles:
This has been the hardest year we’ve experienced in 13 years. There are two elements… there’s the economy and the fact that there are fewer bucks floating around. And there are these guys who bought themselves a job who are getting desperate and will run a car for nothing. I don’t even try to fight them… Let them go ahead and do it. Over the years, we’ve been tempted at different times to expand and I’m very thankful we didn’t. But I have faith we’ll recover.
John Baumgarner - Used limousine broker: 1991 was a decent year for me since
I strictly do used limousines, it was a good year for used merchandise but for new ones, as everyone knows, the market has been a little bit off as it has in every type of car business. My real problem now is finding nice low-mileage cars. Most cars have as many as 200,000 miles on them. Next year, I think things should perk up for manufacturers because there’s not as much competition out there, and I believe there will be a lot of demand for new product. A lot of people have older cars with a lot of miles on them that they’ve got to replace because of the style and because of maintenance.
Gary Dabney - DaBryan Coach:
I don’t think a whole lot has changed. We’ve just continued to learn how to improve our manufacturing to cut costs. It’s just been an ongoing learning process for us... One campaign after another. The process has been longer than we anticipated. We went into this In ’90 thinking it would be a year of hard times but, realistically, it’s been a lot longer than that. As it stretches out, you just have to keep working toward new and improved ways to run your company and produce your product.
Bob Maison - Champion Home Builders:
This has been a good year for us in the limousine market. We have gotten a lot of interest from the readers of L&C in our vehicles in the 17-29 passenger range, and we have put a number of our Challenger units into the market. But it’s been a tough year in the bus business. A lot of people are trying to make their older equipment last a little longer. Actually, 1991 has been better for us than 1990. The only thing is the timing because you don’t know when Bush will try to kick the economy into gear. He doesn’t want to do it too early. He wants to do it to keep rolling into November.
Dick Dickinson - National Coach Engineering: It was a pretty tough year. It was probably the toughest year we’ve had in the industry, and I think it was the toughest that it’s going to be. I see things lightening up a little bit and I think we’re all going to crawl out of it.