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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A look at the business performance and plans of Executive Coach Builders proves that talk of the death of the stretch limo is exaggerated.
After a recession that wracked and almost sunk the stretch limousine manufacturing sector, ECB has emerged as the largest limousine manufacturer in the world, with one quarter of its vehicles exported to nations around the globe.
Somebody must have done something right. All indications point to the man at the top: David Bakare, who celebrates 20 years this year as owner of ECB. He’s banking on the growing popularity of the MKT stretch limousine, the successor to the Town Car sedan stretch, to keep his company at No. 1.
Bakare spoke to LCT at length in April and May, his first major interview with the magazine in almost five years. Much has happened in the limo manufacturing sector and at ECB during this challenging half-decade, requiring Bakare to adjust to new realities so his business stays out front.
Foremost, limousine operators today are buying a wider variety of chauffeured vehicle makes, models, styles and configurations, Bakare says. Before the recession, ECB produced four key limousine models. Now it offers 15 different ones. “We can’t have business in one segment to sustain ECB. It may be inefficient to manufacture, but you have to produce almost anything the customer wants.”
To build more vehicles for a diversified marketplace, a coachbuilder has to redefine efficiency, Bakare says. The old approach of building a few models with sizable economies of scale has yielded to the higher production costs and lower profits from sustaining multiple model lines. The new approach still makes money, but requires more effort and expense to keep customers happy.
“People want variety,” Bakare says. “They want the Sprinter, a party car, limos, all types of vehicles. We have to evolve and adjust to customers’ demands.”
FASTFACTS: Executive Coach Builders
Location: Springfield, Mo.
Founder: John Bumgarner, (1944-2009)
Current owner: David Bakare, Pres.
Key models: MKT stretch limousines; Sprinter vans; Navigators, Escalade, Chrysler 300 and GMC vans
Certification: Quality Vehicle Manufacturer (QVM)
Production, 2012: 357 units
Production, 2013: 450 units
Vehicle models: 15
Top seller: Lincoln MKT Evolution stretch limousine
Annual revenues: N/A (privately held)
Key executives: James Bakare, vice president of operations; Murray Wolkove, sales manager; Abby Bakare, head of accounting department.
Contact: (417) 831-3535
ECB executives James Bakare (L) and David Bakare (R) work with limousine craftsmen and production team members at the Springfield plant to design and construct a diverse line-up of Lincoln, Cadillac and Chrysler stretch limousines, Navigator and Escalade super-stretches and Sprinter vans.
Like most U.S. coachbuilders, the recession hit ECB hard. Annual vehicle production plummeted from 600 units in 2007 to 180 just two years later. Annual production then rose to 357 units last year, and is projected at 450 for this year. ECB is on track to meet its goal of about 500 annual units in 2014.
The growth in demand from foreign markets helped sustain ECB during the recession as domestic demand for stretch limousines fell. Its share of exported vehicles rose from 10% to 40% of total production. Since then, it has rebalanced to about 20-25%, Bakare says. “During the recession, export business was steady, thank God. Now when exports have slowed down, domestic demand has picked up.”
ECB, a Ford QVM manufacturer, is seeing greatest demand for the Lincoln MKT Town Car stretch limousine, the successor to the Town Car sedan stretches that have ruled the limousine market for decades. Sprinter vans are a close second, serving as the ideal base model for a variety of limo bus, shuttle and corporate van configurations.
But the two base models fill complementary needs in the limo vehicle market. “The MKT can’t do the job of the Sprinter, and the Sprinter can’t do the job of the MKT,” Bakare says.
ECB also anticipates demand for the new Ford Transit limo. “This vehicle is poised to put a dent in the Sprinter market while creating a niche of its own,” he says. “There was a lot of buzz when this vehicle was first introduced in February at the ILCT Show and inquiries keep coming while we all await its arrival.”