Having just returned from the International LCT Show held in Las Vegas, I must comment on the state of the industry and how I see it trending.
It’s quite apparent that we are losing our industry’s middle class. From a buyer standpoint, it’s clear that conservative stretches are O-U-T, out. Meanwhile, outrageous and ostentatious ones are I-N, in. I’m dating myself here, but I do remember years of shows where you could literally see over the rooftops of 120-inch stretches from one end of the show to the other — just a sea of tuxedo limos! Not so today. Every coachbuilder at our convention had variety in their displays — everything from SUVs and H2 stretches to customized vans and buses to Chrysler short and long stretches. And no matter what their appearance was on the outside, the interiors harkened back to the disco era of old with lights and sound effects that would rival the best nightclub shows! In the ’90’s our industry accepted a less-is-more standard of vehicle. Now? More is more doesn’t begin to describe the trend we’re in. Are we going to start seeing hot tub limousines again soon?
So we’re back to a two-class system. The corporate market has almost completely abandoned the use of traditional limousines, while the party car operator can’t seem to get enough of them. Where will this trend take our industry? Well I am not a big proponent of having all our eggs in one basket. I think we should be a bit concerned that corporate America is shying away from the stretch business and opting for sedans and vans.
I think we have to roll with fads and respect the need for product differentiation because both help move the pricing structure up. But also, we need to figure out ways to massage more limousine business out of the corporate sector to help defray vehicle costs.
Some people at the show told me the corporate limousine market is dead. Well, OK but how do we revive it? It could be that our image is failing us. Even though people are going gaga for crazy limousines, does that, in and of itself, change the perception that the “suits” have of our industry as a whole? If the answer is yes, I think it behooves us to work on our image via the National Limousine Association to try and reengage the corporate market and get them feeling good about being seen in a limousine. Sounds a bit far flung but the Dairy Farmer’s of America fixed the negative stigma of milk through effective ad and PR campaigns. The beef industry is banding together to do the same.
’Tis the season now for the party car market and I love what is happening — the products have great ‘WOW’ factor and are creative and should yield high hourly rates this spring. But, I think we may be forgetting about another vital part of our audience or at least giving up on it without a good fight.
Sincerely, Sara Eastwood