The extended wheelbase limousine industry will be 30 years old next year. During that time, several limousine manufacturing companies have come and gone. Faced with the peaks and valleys of the complicated automobile business, only a few companies have managed to survive and prosper.
However, never has there such a fast rising star as O’Gara Coachworks in Los Angeles. Once a small regional manufacturer, O’Gara Coachworks has been transformed in two short years from a 15,000 square foot facility producing 67 units, into a major producer of extended wheelbase limousines with 80,000 square feet of factory space. Sales for 1984 are projected at more than 650 units.
The key to this astounding growth has been O’Gara’s deft combination of high technology production methods, savvy marketing and the most innovative sales operation ever to be used in the industry.
“Most manufacturers are still building extended wheelbase limousines the old-fashioned way,” said James Salscheider, president of O’Gara Coachworks. ”Even our most sophisticated competitors have yet to introduce computerized manufacturing or quality control systems. We saw immediately it was an industry ripe for improvement.”
At O’Gara Coachworks, many of the production procedures usually done by hand are controlled by computer. “We’re interested in quality in every step of the manufacturing process,” said Salscheider. “Let’s face it; anyone who is familiar with automobile production methods knows the value of both high technology manufacturing. Just look at the high level of engineering integrity built into Japanese automobiles – which are built almost entirely by utilizing high technology production.
O’Gara Coachworks is the first limousine manufacturer to have two plants, one on the East Coast and one on the West. The decision to build a second facility in Bound Brook, New Jersey, is a major ingredient in O’Gara’s long-term marketing strategy. “We’re better able to service to our customers with the location of these two plants. And they just happen to be the largest limousine markets (New York and Los Angeles) in the country,” he said. Each production facility will build approximately the same number of units.
O’Gara seems to be setting a new tone for the industry with its aggressive marketing and stick sales approach. “Our advertising in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, the in-flight magazines and Limousine & Chauffer, are high quality and clever. But more importantly, we give our potential customers reasons to buy from us,” Salscheider said. “We take the same approach to all of our other marketing activities. If our customers are satisfied, then so are we because customer satisfaction means increased sales.”
A major marketing factor in the continued growth and success of O’Gara Coachworks, according to Salscheider, is the ever-increasing expansion of the O’Gara dealer network. O’Gara currently has a network of 20 stocking dealers nationwide and hopes to have 30 by year’s end.
“We distribute our limousines primarily through existing successful automobile dealers. And the reason is twofold. One, the customer has a purchase selection in the geographic area in which he is located. Second, and maybe more importantly, he is provided the service required for his limousine.”
This is the first year O’Gara has produced a less expensive line of limousines built on the Cadillac Sedan DeVille chassis, the Regent, along with the Moritz, developed specifically for livery services. “Until now we have focused primarily on our Essex series, which is built on the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. We now have a full line of cars built on the Sedan DeVille and new line we are building on the lower-level Town Car,” said Salscheider.
The expanded product line and dealer network shows a definite commitment to the livery service market. “If you’re a limousine service operator, we believe the most important consideration in buying the car, next to quality, is the service that you’re able to get. Time is money in the livery service business.”
Salscheider goes on to explain that livery services are becoming more sophisticated. “Historically the most important factor in purchasing a limousine for a limousine service was the price. We believe now there is a shift toward resale value and service. Perhaps the most significant cost during the life of the car is downtime because of service problems.
“O’Gara dealers have made a significant financial commitment, because we do not build cars for ‘spec’ or for consignment.” And these dealers have made more than just a financial commitment to O’Gara’s sales program. “They have a partnership agreement with us, if you will, where we provide support for the dealer, including a complete service manual, and a training program for the service manager and key mechanics. Sales aides, advertising programs – including a dealer and planner – and sales training are also included.”
The O’Gara regional sales managers play a key part in the O’Gara marketing program, according to Salscheider. “Our regional sales managers are much more than salesmen. Besides providing the dealer with sales and service training, marketing strategy and sales aides, the regional sales manager is in a unique position to assist limousine services in planning their future requirements for new limousines, and even assisting them in selling used limousines.
Besides the sophisticated marketing, sales and service programs, the key ingredient in O’Gara’s rapid ascent in the limousine market has been innovation in engineering and computer technology, as it is applied to the extended wheelbase limousines. The heart of O’Gara’s factory is the computerized manufacturing system. According to Salscheider, “We have been told by an outside consulting firm that our manufacturing system is more representative of what a $500 million company would be expected to have, as opposed to a company of $10 million in sales. We invested a lot of time and money into this system because we believe it will allow us to build a superior product, at an acceptable cost, with the highest possible quality.”
O’Gara is proud of its computerized engineering, manufacturing and quality control systems which have been bolstered productivity. Salscheider explained, “Each day, a sheet from the computer tells each production worker what he is to do that day by operation. Some operations are as short as two minutes, some are as long as an hour.
“We also know how many times a worker has done that operation in any period. We know how long it took him on average so we can measure efficiency. We know how many times his first try was rejected by quality control, because when he has to go back and redo the operation, he has to put it under a rework code. We’re able to very carefully monitor how we build our cars. And we’re going to get better at it. We’re at the point now where a significant part of our car is built in a subassembly fashion to specified tolerances.
“This system monitors every step in the limousine production process, by every worker at every level. It allows our employees to get immediate feedback as to their performance against the standard, and allows us to more carefully monitor the quality in each operation.”
O’Gara has a strong commitment to engineering. The company has pioneered many innovations, such as the use of the aircraft quality wiring harness. This machine-built harness virtually eliminates the constant electrical problems that plague many limousine owners. O’Gara provides a complete wiring schematic with the limousine, to facilitate any service that is necessary. O’Gara uses a complete fiberglass top on their Cadillac limousines. This adds to the structural integrity of the vehicle, provides sound dampening, and increases the head room as well. “We have developed several other innovations now in use throughout the industry,” said Salscheider.
“Limousine services need to understand that is not the length of the stretch that determines leg room and comfort. The engineering design of the layout is a key factor in determining how much room is in the car.
“An O’Gara limousine gets upgraded tires, upgraded springs, and in our higher-line models, where we expect more weight, we change the front shocks. We’re very sensitive to the loads that these cars have to carry, and we think the typical equipment that comes with the car may be inadequate in certain situations. We use General Motors commercial grade springs as standard in all our cars.”
Salscheider believes that O’Gara leads the industry in the quality and design of their wood cabinets. “We’re the only major limousine manufacturer I’m aware of that has its own-in house woodshop. Wood is a very difficult product to control if you have it built by an outside vendor,” according to Salscheider. “By rigidly adhering to production control processes we are able to ensure that not only does the finish look beautiful when the car is delivered, but it will hold up over the lifetime of the limousine.” O’Gara currently has a patent pending design on its cabinet used in its Essex and Regent models. And O’Gara is continuing to experiment with new configurations in the rear compartment.
Approximately three-fourths of O’Gara’s current production is devoted to Cadillacs, but Salscheider sees an increase in the number of Lincolns that they will build in the future. “Lincoln has made a commitment to the Town Car through the 1980’s; Cadillac has not made that commitment for the Fleetwood Brougham. In addition we see an increase and interest among the limousine services in the Lincoln, so we would expect that next year our mix will change and we will be building more Lincolns.” O’Gara also builds Mercedes Benz limousines, but only a limited quantity. Salscheider feels that the limousine service industry is a fast growing segment of the American business community. “We will see more and more taxicabs replaced by limousine services for airport runs, and just general transportation. In addition, the tougher drinking laws enacted by most states in this country encourage the use of a limousine for a social evening. And we believe the businessman whose time is valuable will start using a limousine instead of a rental car as limousines become more available at major airports.”
Another significant factor in O’Gara’s successful rise in the limousine business is the synergism with the other O’Gara companies. O’Gara owns the Hess and Eisenhart Armoring Co., in Cincinnati, Ohio, the foremost builder of armored vehicles in the world today.
“Our experience in building high level ballistically-protected automobiles for heads of state around the world has certainly allowed us to transfer some of the technology, especially in engineering and manufacturing, to the building of our limousines,” Salscheider said.
In addition to providing marketing services to the business aircraft industry, O’Gara Aviation also refurbishes high-level business jets, not unlike rebuilding the interior of a limousine. O’Gara International’s extensive overseas network, including offices in several countries, provide additional customers for O’Gara limousines. And Business Systems Associates, a Los Angeles-based software design company, provides the necessary software design and systems, along with the computer, that drives all the O’Gara business.
When you consider that the oldest O’Gara company is not yet five years old, and you examine the blend of engineering, computer technology, and high powered merchandising skills at work, it’s no wonder that O’Gara has become one of the dominant limousine manufacturers in the marketplace.