A Show Floor That Flowed Toward the Future

Posted on October 30, 2008 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

The themed messages could not have been clearer on LCT East’s trade show floor: Go green and get online. This year’s spike in gas prices has opened up new opportunities for automakers and conversion companies to sell greener vehicles. And the crumbling of old media means that online advertising and marketing offers the best value in promoting your company.

Chauffeured transportation companies must take advantage of these opportunities to ride volatile business cycles, connect globally, and attract corporate business. Those efforts can help operators position themselves for the challenges of a hyper-speed, 21st Century business marketplace. Green vehicle and online media companies made a strong presence at LCT East, with attendees able to sample propane, hydrogen fuel cell, and hybrid vehicles aplenty, from such major namesakes as GM, Cadillac, Mercedes, Lexus, and Empire Coachworks.

Coachbuilders and automakers also rolled out conventional top-of-the-line limousine vehicles and buses. Lincoln, Cadillac, Federal, Royale, and Atlantic Turtle Top featured their pristine, polished best to the hundreds of operators and attendees traversing the show floor at the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino. Among green vehicle highlights were: Lexus and Toyota hybrid vehicles, and the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid.

Others included:

Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell vehicle: This is an electric vehicle, powered by GM’s fourth-generation fuel cell system — GM’s most advanced fuel cell propulsion system to date. GM will place 100 fuel cell vehicles with real drivers for real use in New York, Washington, D.C., and California.

Mercedes R320: The new R320 BlueTec brings a lot of potential as it enters the competitive U.S. chauffeured vehicle market. Its key green features include a cleaner form of diesel that gives the vehicle a travel range of 600 miles on a single tank of fuel. It rids the vehicle of the noise, odor, and emissions of old diesel engines. Additionally, the exhaust system is injected with a solution known as AdBlue that dramatically reduces noxious smog fumes.

Empire Coachworks: The custom service coachbuilder based in East Brunswick, N.J., makes about 36 customized limousines per month, said Edward Vergopia, president of Empire Coachworks. Among its innovations are compressed natural gas (CNG) versions of limousines that provide a viable, efficient green alternative. The company has an 88,000-square-foot factory in the heart of America’s dominant northeastern chauffeured transportation market.

American Alternative Fuel: This vehicle energy conversion company specializes in hybrid propane injection systems for gas and diesel fleet vehicles. The systems made by the Castleton, N.Y. based company enable vehicles to run cheaper, cleaner, and more efficient while boosting engine power. Conventional, cutting-edge livery vehicles included:

Royale: Among its displayed vehicles, the Haverhill, Mass.–based coachbuilder featured a Lincoln 30-inch stretch, ideal for two executives working side by side. Amenities include two writing Feddesks, a 20-inch LCD retractable TV, a rear-command center, premium sound system, a hands-free intercom, Sirius radio, a navigation system, and leather seats. The 30-inch CEO model is available in Lincoln Town Car and Cadillac DTS versions.

Federal Coach: As one of America’s leading makers of limousines, livery, and funeral vehicles, Federal promoted its Premier Limo Bus made by Freightliner. It has a Mercedes engine and can seat 32 passengers on a curving Ushaped couch surrounded by a sophisticated sound system and fl at screen TVs. It also has a gleaming party pole in the back of the bus, which a salesman said is included on most of Federal’s Premier Limo Buses.

Cadillac: Along with the Escalade Hybrid, Cadillac displayed the upgraded, latest version of the DTS-L, a six-inch stretch ideal for livery work-horsing. Cadillac hopes to make inroads into the corporate sedan market, now dominated by the Lincoln Town Car.

Lincoln: As always, Lincoln served up its industry stalwarts, the latest versions of the Town Car and its SUV models.

Atlantic Turtle Top: As the shuttle bus and group transport market grows amid rising fuel prices, Turtle Top is one bus-builder that presented several of its vehicles to meet demand.

In addition to cutting-edge vehicles, the show floor also became a hotspot for new media and technology. A sampling of such companies included:

Limos.com: Doug Anderson, senior vice president of product and corporate development for San Francisco–based Limos.com, was on hand to promote the relaunch of the Limos.com platform, which was redesigned and redeveloped from the ground up. The service helps clients find the best-priced limousine or chauffeured vehicle service in cities nationwide.

“We had a lot of validation and got a lot of feedback in creating a marketing platform for our providers,” Anderson said. “We’re starting to attract operators with much bigger fleets.” Limos.com has more than 1,800 registered operators who pay a lead fee of 99 cents per click to belong to the service. While most of those operators average 15-20 vehicles, Limos.com has been picking up more in the 50-plus range. The company hopes to expand from its lead-matching base into advertising, Anderson said.

Limo Web Designs (www.limowebdesigns.com): President Gary Leranian explained how his concept of an instant content management system (CMS) for limousine industry websites helps take the intimidation out of technology for many operators. Clients of Limo Web Designs, based in Clifton, N.J., have full control of their sites, and can easily upload images and content.

“We are the Go Daddy above Go Daddy,” he said. “The basic premise of what we do is the CMS. We resurrect the old static sites and make them dynamic.” Leranian also draws upon his experience as the owner of a 40-vehicle limousine company called Limoride.com, formerly Top Town Limo.

“You’re never at the mercy of the webmaster,” Leranian said. “You have the advantage of a great support program behind it. We are limo guys by nature, and understand the business itself and the pains.”

Silent Dispatch: Stuart Theodore, founder and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.–based Silent Dispatch, and his team have created an all-in-one reservation/dispatch/trip tracking software system where clients can book and revise reservations through their computers or hand-helds, chauffeurs can handle trips and any changes that come up on their PDAs, and dispatchers have control over the entire fl eet all the time. Before starting up Silent Dispatch, Theodore owned a black car company with 50 vehicles serving the Phoenix hotel market, and before that he served as a project manager for Microsoft.

The Silent Dispatch team focused on the benefits of using the new product: efficiency through reservation and dispatch automation and in-car data communications; accountability through real time data for control of the business; and customer service through online reservations and account management tools, with the ability to GPS track the vehicles on a Google Map. Billing can go to clients through email, downloadable spreadsheets, or Internet fax, and credit card processing is available. Michael Goodman, director of sales, and Steven Groves, vice president/business development, also were part of the discussions and have been communicating with operators through a recently started blog, called “In the Left Lane.”

Silent Dispatch emphasizes making chauffeurs accountable to operators, and operators accountable to customers. The company’s name was chosen to highlight the benefits of using a quiet, soundless system that won’t interrupt anyone else no matter where it’s used.

— LCT Managing Editor Jon LeSage contributed to this article.


Operators-In-The-Aisle Sound Off on LCT East

Andy Hernandez, operating partner



What’s happening in your market?

AT&T moved out of San Antonio to Dallas. It was a blow to the market, and we had a drop in rides. The Austin technology market is our main focus now; we opened an office there in 2006. Technology companies are doing well. San Antonio is more of convention/visitors town and Austin is more corporate. We have more minibuses in San Antonio and more sedans in Austin.

What is your goal at LCT East?

Strengthening relationships with affiliate partners. Coming to LCT East strengthens our bonds with them at a business and friendship level.

What’s next?

We’re going after the destination management company market. We’re buying more standard mini-buses with flat screen TVs. We now have three Star Trans mini-coaches, which can carry 35 passengers.


Deanna Ballard, director of client services



How long have you been in business?

We started up in 2003 — my husband and I love cars and wanted our own business. New Mexico is heavily regulated. Just getting licensed is the hardest part. We had to apply in the “hybrid taxi operator” category and we’re still going to hearings. The trick is getting in front of the state’s Public Regulatory Commission in Santa Fe.

How has this year been for you?

2008 has been a good year. We’ve had two movie accounts this year, and they’re filming in our area. We also provide travel services to lots of European visitors from France, Germany, and Italy. The dollar is low in value now and they get good deals.

What have you gained from attending LCT East?

We do affiliate work, especially with BostonCoach and Commonwealth. There’s a strong connection between New York and Albuquerque and Santa Fe.


Renzo Ormsbee, president



What have you been working on here?

It’s a good way to learn the best practices of other companies, meet people who’ve brought business to my company, and to find out about new technology other people are using. I’ve been introduced to software providers. I’m especially interested in GPS. It can help in time and fuel savings. We can make sure chauffeurs are taking the best route.

How are things going for your company?

We’re dealing with a lot because of airline cuts. We’re using the downtime to train our staff and are focusing on the corporate sector. I’m working on adding additional clients, since we now have more time to do this. We’re expanding our services for clinics and plastic surgeons, including keeping passengers ambulatory after outpatient surgery. And we’re working on our website — making it an information oasis for airport trips. Clients need to know where they’ll be met.


Dan Pernas and Carlos Triani, co-owners



What are you getting out of attending this event?

Dan: We’ve been in business more than nine years, but this is the first industry show we’ve attended. Our next goal is to expand nationwide into a half dozen cities through affiliate work. IBM is a major client of ours, and they regularly travel to Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. We mostly handle corporate trips; 80% of our business is airport runs to the big three New York City airports, Bradley International Airport in Windsor, Conn., and the Westchester County (N.Y.) Airport.

What’s been happening with your company lately?

Dan: We’re going paperless, marketing through search engines, and have our drivers and dispatchers using Nextel. We’re putting ads in Yellow Pages and Yellow Books and their websites, and local newspapers and magazines. And we’re opening a new office in Norwalk (Conn.), about 45 minutes away.


Sheri and Tom Barnes, owners



What do you think of LCT East this year?

Sheri: I liked the uniformity of the program presentations. The pamphlets and handouts were informative and helpful. Networking as always was the main reason I came.

Tom: We hand out 100-plus business cards every time we go. We take home useful information that we can start using tomorrow.

Sheri: Learning from others is always helpful. People who’ve been doing this a while are always willing to answer a question. You can go right up to Dawson Rutter or George Jacobs and ask a question. Tom: I like being able to give feedback directly to vehicle manufacturers who are very receptive to what the end user has to say.


Companies Rounded Up Pre-Owned Vehicles at Corral

Visitors to the first-ever Car Consignment Corral were driven in a shuttle bus from the hotel/casino to the outdoor lot next to the scenic Thames River outside the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino. Royale Limousine Manufacturing remarketed chauffeured fleet vehicles, as did All Occasion Transportation, Westwood Lincoln Mercury, and American Alternative Fuel. The Corral was created by LCT to bring together operators, coachbuilders, and dealers in a pre-owned lot to offer competitive prices and diverse vehicles.

Those touring the lot got to check out 100- and 120-inch Town Car stretches; a 1999 Turtle Top E-450 shuttle bus with 183,780 odometer miles (with a Grace Limousine logo and sold by Royale); a 2006 Ford E-250 black van with 56,500 miles (sold by All Occasion Transportation) that included a cooler, TV, and five-disk DVD player; and two propane powered converted full-size vans sold by American Alternative Fuel, a Castleton, N.Y.-based company marketing to the ground transportation industry. The first converted van was a 2008 Ford E-350 XLT with 23,836 miles selling for $23,358; and the second conversion was a 2007 Chevrolet Express 3500 van with 30,964 miles selling for $19,995.

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