Next year marks the official retirement of the Cadillac DTS and the Lincoln Town Car. Ford is closing the Town Car plant for good and plans to build enough Executive L-series sedans to carry the industry through 2011 or until the new, as yet unannounced chauffeured sedan produced by Lincoln, is made available to us. Cadillac is quietly working on a new livery vehicle.
As the clock ticks closer to the end of 2010, the reality is sinking in that the end of a vehicle era is upon us. That means livery vehicle market share could be up for grabs, and so far, I can’t find one operator in this industry who knows exactly how to plan for future fleet line-ups.
I’m glad to report that this topic will be covered extensively at our LCT Leadership Summit on Sept. 28-30 at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park Hotel [this event will be happening alongside BusCon for the first time ever]. So please register and come out for a vehicle preview and seminar that has a direct bearing on your business. There are critical changes with respect to products that you must be aware of and plan ahead for.
I have talked at length with operators on the subject of future vehicles, and I can say there is no clear consensus on preferences or plans. Lincoln has always built a great looking sedan and stretch limousine. How the new vehicle will be received by clients is a big unknown. Many operators I spoke to hope the appeal of the new vehicle will match the popularity of the Town Car among high-end VIP clients.
Meanwhile, the average business traveler, the one who is simply thankful to just have a job following this brutal recession, won’t be too picky about a company-provided airport transfer and won’t have much to say. So, does the industry ease into two-tiered vehicle classes — one with premium rates and amenities and one with standard business ones?
Maybe this will work if we can solve the logistical problems of diversified fleets. For example, let’s say you put two expensive Mercedes-Benz vehicles into your fleet and marketed them as premium-level. Your business class vehicle(s) are whatever is available — the replacements for the DTS and/or Town Car, Toyota Avalons, Lexus, Hyundais, etc. What happens on a really busy day when the Mercedes vehicles get hung up due to delayed flights and you have no back up for another premium-service run? That could cause problems, such as unhappy clients needing to be rebated because you showed up with a downgraded vehicle.
Multiple changes and options always bring on new challenges. This is the key puzzle we all must solve. Before you know it, D-day will be upon us. It will be time for all operators to come up with strategies for total fleet makeovers or transitions. We’ll definitely be talking more about this pivotal industry shift next month at the LCT Leadership Summit. I look forward to hearing your ideas and feedback there.