Chris Quinn has been trying out all facets of the Toyota Avalon, a newcomer to the chauffeured transportation industry.
VEHICLE MARKET WATCH: The affordable sedan is big enough and comfortable enough to be taken seriously in the livery market, operator says.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Christopher Quinn of CORPORATE TRANSPORTATION SOLUTIONS sees a lot of potential for a vehicle newcomer to the industry that could compete with the Lincoln MKT Town Car.
Quinn is testing a TOYOTA AVALON sedan in his fleet for about a month, and so far he finds the results encouraging.
“I spent an hour driving it like a chauffeur up and down the streets of San Francisco,” said Quinn, who brought the loaned Avalon to last week’s GREATER CALIFORNIA LIVERY ASSOCIATION meeting in that city. “It is a fantastic driving car. It has more horsepower than a Town Car, it’s incredibly smooth and quiet, has wonderful pick-up, and the braking is responsive. With its front wheel drive, it’s great to maneuver in San Francisco.”
Toyota is seriously pursuing the luxury chauffeured sedan market with the release of its livery version Avalon sedan, which was displayed at the 2011 International LCT Show in February.
Chauffeured transportation operators such as Quinn are looking at options in a more diverse luxury vehicle market as Ford Motor Co. retires the Lincoln Town Car and replaces it with the Lincoln MKT Town Car and also presents its MKZ Hybrid mid-sized sedan as a greener option to the industry; Cadillac prepares to unveil a sedan successor this year to its outgoing DTS sedan; Mercedes-Benz boosts its livery presence with the R350 cross-over and S550 luxury sedan; and Hyundai makes a splash with its luxury Equus model for livery.
For Quinn, the Avalon offers more room than he thought it would for tall passengers in the rear seats, which recline up to 10%. “The passenger behind the driver has remarkable room. I sat in the rear of the car as a 6-foot 1-inch man. I could sit putting my ankle on top of my other knee.”
Although the Avalon has less room than a Lincoln Town Car, the Town Car is going away, so operators must face the reality of finding practical, comfortable alternatives, Quinn said. The Avalon he is test-driving with clients costs about $29,000, well below the $40,000 to $44,000 price range of a Town Car. The gas mileage is 29 mpg highway/20 mpg city compared to about 23/17 for a Lincoln Town Car.
Quinn maintains he would be able to charge the same rates for an Avalon as for a Town Car, thereby increasing his profit margin or at least offsetting higher fuel costs with better gas mileage and lower finance payments.
“I wouldn’t go back in price at all,” Quinn said. “I don’t see a need for that. What I’m hearing from customers is it’s a black sedan. They look for a black sedan or an SUV. They’re not looking at the badging.”
Corporate Transportation Solutions, which includes mostly Chevrolet Suburbans and Lincoln Town Cars along with vans, shuttles and a few stretches, serves many clients from the pharmaceutical, financial, and government sectors in the Sacramento region.
“The massive amount of rear space is not as important as you think,” Quinn said. “A lot of companies already use a non-Executive L Town Car.”
Quinn doubts he will replace his Town Car fleet with the Lincoln MKT. “Lincoln builds a great product, but the problem is you just can’t say ‘SUV or sedan?’ to a client. That’s what we say in the industry. A cross-over is not part of the mix.”
None of his clients, or administrative assistants arranging transportation for his clients, have complimented the look of the MKT, Quinn said. “I get weird looks and comments of ‘That’s interesting,’ ‘That looks like an Acura, or Chrysler Pacifica,’. . . I get a bunch of responses, but I don’t get, ‘That’s a good looking car.’”
One thing Toyota could do to improve its livery version Avalon, however, is to put client controls into the rear seat armrest for the vehicle climate and entertainment systems, Quinn said.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
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