The 1994 model year is the fifth year for Lincoln’s Qualified Vehicle Modifier Program in which coachbuilders are evaluated for vehicle design, manufacturing techniques, quality control, and customer service. Supported by incentives for buyers and coach-builders, the program is widely supported throughout the industry and has been credited with greatly improving limousine quality and safety. It has also played an important role in helping coachbuilders certify that their vehicles meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
In 1993, 20 coachbuilders participated in the QVM Program and, at press time, Lincoln engineer Dick Shogren was preparing to visit manufacturers to conduct this year’s round of evaluations. Shogren recently reviewed the early years of the QVM Program with L&C and suggested things to look for during a limousine inspection and test ride.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What do you look for when you evaluate a coachbuilder?
Richard Shogren: What we essentially do is see how a builder complies with FMVSS and check their quality control and procedures. The most important thing is to look for continuous improvement. We ask, ‘What are you doing to improve your process?” There’s no such thing as standing still and saying, “I have a good process.” It constantly has to be refined.
Our rating categories are Excellent, Satisfactory, Marginal, and Unsatisfactory. These categories are based on an internal point system where an “Excellent” rating reflects a score of 92 or above.
L&C: What improvement have you seen in limousine manufacturing over the past three years?
Shogren: Based on the limousines you see at the L&C Shows now, you can tell that a lot of the things we proposed have been adopted. I think the general quality level is much improved. We have also heard that Robert Hellmuth of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been impressed with safety improvements. So I think both Lincoln and Cadillac have been effective in improving limousine safety.
When we started the program, most builders could produce an acceptable vehicle, but their consistency varied greatly. This has been improved by our attention to manufacturing and quality control procedures.
L&C: Has there been an appreciable improvement in warranty claims?
Shogren: We’ve had certain builders report to us that their warranty claims are a third of what they were before they started the program.
L&C: How many builders are now part of the QVM Program?
Shogren: There were 20 companies last year.
L&C: How many companies were rated as “excellent?”
Shogren: I would say that a third to a half of the companies were in the “excellent” category when they decided to seriously pursue our QVM Program because we supplied extensive information to them before we made our first evaluations. Most of the companies that have been in the QVM Program more than one year have now attained the “excellent” rating
L&C: Do some coachbuilders use Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems to engineer their vehicles?
Shogren: Yes. there are several builders who use CAD and find it very useful. I remember when one or two companies were using it and now there are three or four.
L&C: Does it have a bearing on quality?
Shogren: As a builder increases volume, it becomes more of a necessity
L&C: What is it used for?
Shogren: It has a lot of engineering applications. In building a longer car, someone might use CAD to see how to reduce weight in order to meet the 7,100 pound gross vehicle weight limit. It can also be useful in designing an interior.
L&C: What should a buyer know about vehicle weight?
Shogren: They must remember to check the weight of a vehicle including passengers and fluids. It should be clearly marked on the driver’s door of a vehicle. The buyer should also know the true seating capacity of a vehicle. If they want an eight-passenger vehicle, they should make sure it is actually certified to carry eight people. This should also be clearly marked. Some vehicles appear to carry more people than they are certified for.
Passenger capacity should also be shown on the rear passenger door or door jamb if the car is extended 85 inches or more. Any limousine that is stated to hold 10 or more passengers raises concern regarding the maximum gross vehicle weight rating. Ask a builder to certify the weight on local truck scales if in doubt.
L&C: What about weight distribution between front and rear?
Shogren: Weight distribution fore and aft is not hard to maintain in a limousine. Ideally you want to keep a 50/50 weight ratio.
L&C: What should a buyer know about a limousine’s electrical system?
Shogren: A limousine should have the capacity to handle all of its electrical equipment. If you have a 130 amp alternator, that is the maximum rating. What someone should be concerned with is the capacity of the vehicle at lower RPMs because a lot of cars sit and idle. If people forget to turn off equipment, that’s when you can run batteries down and have problems I think people should add an inexpensive warning light to tell when the vehicle is in trouble. The lights are even more effective than a gauge. Chauffeurs will know to turn off equipment if the red light is on.
A blower motor, running on high, is probably the biggest single amperage draw on an electrical system. If you have to keep a blower on all the time, you will have to have a good electrical supply A lot of people overlook the fact that good insulation in a limousine will decrease the need for electricity. With the hot summers recently, we have seen an increase in the failure of alternators and compressors.
L&C: What items in a limousine are considered “control items?”
Shogren: Control items are things that affect the safety of a vehicle during use or in an adverse condition such as a crash. One thing that pops into my mind would be seatbelt bolts. Are they the proper type of bolts? Is the torque correct? It’s particularly important to check these things in the quality control process.
L&C: What can you judge about the quality of a limousine during a test ride?
Shogren: I would listen for rattles and squeaks. That would tell you that something isn’t put together properly. You should also be concerned by driveline vibration, especially at half-throttle or less. You might get some shudder under extreme acceleration but you shouldn’t have vibration throughout the driving ranges of the vehicle.
Don’t be so concerned about glitz and glamour that you sacrifice practical details like proper insulation, proper stowage, and accessible belts for all occupants.
L&C: Should you drive through a few potholes?
Shogren: You might look for a few undulating roads to see how it rides. That will also bring out any squeaks or rattles.
L&C: Anything you would like to add?
Shogren: Our program has been successful because we’ve had very good cooperation between the engineering activities here and our fleet sales people. They have provided incentives in the limousine market which have encouraged limousine buyers and manufacturers to support the program.
Buying a limousine is like buying any other vehicle. “Let the buyer be aware” is a good motto. Any limousine conversion exceeding 120 inches is not considered for the Ford QVM Program and is likely to exceed the 7,100 pound weight limit. All QVM builders are listed on the Ford hotline Call 800/34- FLEET for this information.
L&C: And you are now going out to evaluate companies for the fifth year of the program?
Shogren: Yes. We’re hoping to see a few more come on board. We’d like to see everyone join the program and show their customers they’re giving them the very best product they can.