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The thought of traveling to chilly Detroit in the middle of winter from my warm Southern California home sent shivers down my spine. But the prospect of learning the details of Cadillac’s 200,000-mile, two- year durability test first hand compelled me to make the trip.
In the new program, Cadillac is giving two 1994 Fleetwood sedans with the R1P heavy-duty livery package to each of three operators for a period of two years during which the vehicles will accumulate 200,000 miles each. The cars will be placed in fleets in the New York City, Chicago, and Detroit metro areas.
The livery operations chosen to participate in the program are: American Limousine in Burr Ridge, IL; Detroit Metro Cars in Romulus, MI; and Rudy’s Limousine Service in Cos Cob, CT. One criterion used to choose the participants included the ability to achieve 100,000 miles minimum annually. Plus, the operator had to normally use Cadillacs in his fleet, allow monthly visits by Cadillac representatives, keep thorough records on all aspects of the vehicles, have a good safety record, and have a good reputation and credibility in the industry.
The objectives of the program are two-fold: To demonstrate the durability of the Fleetwood to the livery industry and to provide customer (operator) durability data for future engineering information. The durability test will examine not only how the vehicles hold up, but also the type of service operators can expect from authorized Cadillac Limousine Dealers. Each operator will be responsible to service the vehicles according to normal maintenance schedules at the nearest Cadillac dealership to examine how effectively the new “limo lanes” function.
A Cadillac representative will be travelling to each operation monthly to examine the vehicles and discuss any problems the operators have experienced. The operators will also be required to keep extensive maintenance records pertaining to the vehicles. At the end of the two-year period, the vehicles will be torn down and thoroughly examined to determine how they held up to the rigorous demands of livery use.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
As a witness to the fledgling Cadillac program, my assignment would take me through many informative stops in three states and two of the nation’s largest cities. The cast of characters over the next two action-packed days included: Warren Wickland, the Cadillac representative overseeing the program; John Capparelli, fleet manager of American Limousine; Ed Till, vice president of sales for Detroit Metro Cars; Dave Clark, manager of specialty and commercial vehicles for Cadillac; and Bill Gambrell, manager of specialty vehicle administration for Cadillac.
At 8 a.m. on the first morning Wickland, Capparelli, and I met in the hotel lobby before starting off to Detroit Metro Cars. The livery company had already had its two vehicles in operation for about a week when we arrived. Although not required, Detroit Metro Cars assigned specific drivers to each of the vehicles for the duration of the test.
The two drivers, Pavlos Kanakis and Thomas Betts, were chosen by a peer review board. “Pavlos is a Greek immigrant who is very opinionated and strongly believes in his convictions. We believe he will be very honest in his critiques of the vehicle. Tom is very outgoing and has a loyal client following. We believe he is very likely to get good customer input,” says Cullan Meathe, owner of Detroit Metro Cars.
Meathe and other company executives sat down with the two chauffeurs to explain what their duties would be. “We told them what was expected and they shot back with ideas of their own that have expanded the program,” he adds. Some of the duties they will be responsible for include keeping logs for things such as fueling, car washes, and preventative maintenance. The company’s in-house mechanic will be in charge of performing normal upkeep on the vehicles including oil changes, changing wipers, and checking tire air pressure. All other maintenance will be handled at Don Massey Cadillac in Plymouth, MI.
In the first week of the program, Kanakis and Betts have put over 5,000 miles on each vehicle. Already, they were able to furnish input to Wickland. “One of the things we have been able to critique is the trunk release placement. When drivers lean over to engage it in the glove compartment, their shirt comes untucked. We believe it should be moved to a better position. Another problem we have identified is that very tall drivers have an obstruction of the rear view mirror,” adds Meathe.
According to Till, both cars are running up to 14 hours straight per day. So far, the drivers have re ported they like the accessories, handling, traction control, responsiveness, minimal road noise, and gas mileage figures. One vehicle was experiencing trouble with the driver’s seat switch and a loud noise when turning. The other had a noise in the dash that came and went.
“Overall we are pretty pleased with the cars,” reports Till. “It will be interesting to see how they hold up over the long run. We normally use a lease/buy back program and turn our vehicles over three or four times per year. We can compare the new models to the test vehicles. So far, we are getting a great response from our customers.”
After touring the company’s facilities, we gathered around for the obligatory photo shoot before heading off to Detroit’s Metro Airport for an up-close look at how Detroit Metro Cars operates. In a nutshell, the company operates as a luxury taxi operation that has its own curb- side parking and customer service reps to get the clients in the cars. The Cadillacs will be an integral part of this operation. Meathe also operates as Carey International’s Detroit affiliate.
AN ‘ALARMING’ AFTERNOON
Ed Till joined us and were on our way to tour the Modern Engineering offices in Warren, MI. Modern Engineering is the company contracted to coordinate the Cadillac Master Coachbuilder Program and durability program. At the facility, we met up with some old friends and met some new ones. Cas Jasin, formerly coachbuilder manager for Cadillac and now an employee of Modern Engineering, met us at the door. We also bumped into Dave Clark.
Wickland gave Capparelli, Till, and me the grand tour. First stop was a large garage area where specialty vehicles are experimented on. While trying to get a closer look at a luxury sedan that never made it into production, we made the annoying mistake of opening the door to an alarmed vehicle. After searching frantically for the keys, Wickland disarmed the piercing shrieks, and we quietly made our way upstairs.
The top floor of the building is filled with a plethora of information. “There is a wealth of Cadillac information housed up here,” Wickland explains. “It is sometimes difficult for a GM employee to find where to look for the right information. We figured it would be even harder for a coachbuilder to find the information he needs. That is why we compiled everything a coach-builder would need to know up here. Whatever they might need, the coachbuilders can just give us a call and we can find it.”
Clark explained the “First Word” program Cadillac has created for the coachbuilders and how the company would like to institute a similar arrangement with the three test operators. “In the First Word program, if a coachbuilder finds a problem with the vehicles, he can fax that information to us,” he says. Don Ableson, platform manager in the mid-size car division, and Mike Glessner, quality manager in the Arlington plant, get that information immediately.