Worried About Fleet Changes? We Feel Your Pain

Posted on November 28, 2011 by Sara Eastwood-McLean - Also by this author

In the fall of 2008, I had the daunting task of meeting with senior management at my parent company, Bobit Business Media. They wanted to know from me what my coming year business forecast and projections for the future would be. My response was, “What is your threshold of tolerance for pain?” No one stirred.

I detailed what was coming first: A radical downsizing of fleets by operators responding to the cataclysmic recession that started in a flash with the financial meltdown of September 2008. This activity would spur the next problem, a market flooded with used vehicles. That, in turn, devastated new vehicle sales as evidenced by our Fact Book reports. In 2008 there were 2,235 limousines sold; in 2009 that number dropped to 375. Because the banking industry was imploding, getting a loan was next to impossible in 2009 — not that anyone was inclined to make such investments that year.

As if life wasn’t challenging enough, Ford Motor Company shuttered its Toronto plant forever — the facility that produced the Lincoln Town Car, the Mercury Marquis and the Ford Crown Victoria. Cadillac advised us that the DTS (DeVille Touring Sedan) was also retiring for good starting in December 2010! Hence, the two most common, or “standard,” chauffeured vehicles were going away forever. For at least a full year, we sat in limbo and had to focus on rebuilding our decimated client books while reluctantly coming to terms with the inevitable. . . a total fleet transition.

At the 2011 International LCT Show, we were finally introduced to what would be the replacement vehicles offered by Cadillac and Ford. However, the availability was more than a year away as both manufacturers advised they could not yet take vehicle orders because final versions would not be revealed until the International LCT Show in February 2012.

So, what’s happened? All hell has broken loose. The market is stressed and confused. Operators tell me they feel abandoned by the automakers. They are getting mixed messages from the auto news press. No one has a clear idea on what their fleets will look like, or the marketability of the products being offered. The consensus is we’ve stepped too far away from our tradition and that we absolutely must have something regal to protect pricing that is already under scrutiny.

Have I just about summed it all up? Well, we feel your pain. But I am in the lucky seat. I get to see one and two years ahead of things. And that’s where this gets good. While I cannot state anything on paper due to confidentiality matters, I can advise you on this: Get to Las Vegas Feb. 13-15 to attend the International LCT Show. Just about every booth has a new product launch planned and some major surprises. For certain, you WON’T be confused about what to buy after leaving that Show. Further, my State of the Industry will detail the revenue forecasts in every market segment you serve. It’s all good news!

Do not despair. You only have to wait things out for a few short months; fortunately those months coincide with the winter slow season. Come to Las Vegas and you will understand exactly why all of you will be in excellent shape.

Sara Eastwood-McLean

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