As I’m sure anyone who attended the 2003 LCT Show will agree, the exhibit floor was nearly dominated by stretched SUVs with only a modest show of traditional limousines. It appears that coachbuilders are answering the call for industrial-strength limousines. Based on what I saw on the exhibit floor, SUVs are the “it” vehicle today. The problem is the radical departure of the traditional limousine is throwing a curve ball at most operators. So many people wanted to talk to me about this at the show, I started referring to the conversations as the “Great Limousine Debate” – the cool versus class dilemma.
From what I can make of the trend, it seems that consumers under 30 years of age want to be seen in something that’s “cool.” Those over 30, on the other hand, still opt for “class.” SUVs are radical. They’re rebellious. They’re cool. The traditional limousine, meanwhile, is sophisticated, elegant and classic.
Where is our retail market heading? Quite obviously, the wedding and prom business is going to the SUV market. Think about the age group of people getting married. Consider the age of those attending proms. What do these girls and guys want? To be cool! What’s more, they like to travel in big packs, which also helps offset the cost of riding in a big limo. So to them, the more butts the better. Now that there’s a QVM 14-butt SUV on the market, there’s no turning back.
I spoke to many operators who were apprehensive about plunging in and purchasing one of these “cool” cars for fear that this may be a passing phase. I admit, seeing all those trucks on our show floor was weird, but I predict the SUV limousine will stick as sure as the 120-inch stretch did some 10 years ago.
What do we do about the traditional limousine? It has lost some market share but it’s far from dead. We 30-somethings (and beyond) still go out on the town, albeit in smaller groups, and, more importantly, attend black tie functions and have higher spending power than Gen-Xers. We wouldn’t be caught dead in a truck stretched from kingdom come packed with 10 or more people. The older we get, the more important class and comfort become.
So how do you market to a more diversified consumer base than ever before? For starters, you can have one of everything. Or, you can align yourself with operators in your neighborhood and work together. If your business is primarily corporate with an occasional call for a party car, farm that out to someone that specializes in super stretches. It works the other way too.
The most successful operators of today don’t have all of their eggs in one basket. They take all the calls from the prom-goers, wedding parties, nights-on-the-town, special events, and airport shuttling all the way to the high-end corporate client. They do a little farm in/out work and they don’t base their business model on being dependent on their affiliates.