ABOUT PHOTO: Richmond, Va. operator Randy Allen created a new and profitable class of service with two Toyota Camry sedans that have proven their chauffeured mettle.
SUMMARY: As the economy tanked two years ago, Randy Allen bought two Toyota Camry sedans to meet the budget needs of some clients. Are tiered-rates tied to specific vehicle sizes and brands the future business model of luxury chauffeured transportation?
RICHMOND, Va. — When operator Randy Allen added two Toyota Camry sedans to his JAMES LIMOUSINE fleet two years ago, it was a bold move in an industry bound by the tradition of large, luxurious American vehicles.
After two years of a horrible recession, strapped business travel budgets, an industry downturn, and a semi-flaccid recovery, the options for more diverse vehicles has spread throughout the industry as more automakers bring their brands to the industry market and operators explore alternatives.
Allen bought his dark gray Camry sedans for $20,000 each in the spring of 2009 to create a new pricing tier and class of vehicle service in his 23-vehicle fleet. The Camry costs $62 per hour all-in, about 20% less than what James Limousine charges for a Lincoln Town Car. Allen recorded more than 300 runs for his Camrys in 2010.
“We purchased the Camrys during the recession as a response to a segment of our business travel market no longer able to utilize chauffeured Town Car services due to travel budget restrictions,” Allen said. “We [now] get a higher percentage of individual travelers instead of corporate using them as a better service option than a cab or shared ride. We do have some corporate clients, people further down on the chart normally not authorized to use chauffeured service.”
The Camry LEs have proven reliable, averaging 26 mpg with regular unleaded fuel. Allen bought entry-level models with automatic transmissions, leather seats and A/C.
Allen’s success with the Camry occurred before Toyota officially entered the chauffeured transportation fleet market with its livery-edition TOYOTA AVALON, a full-sized sedan larger than the mid-sized Camry, that was on display at the 2011 International LCT Show in February.
The emergence in the last two years of chauffeured vehicles such as the Camry, Avalon, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, Hyundai Equus, Mercedes-Benz R350, Lexus vehicles, and most recently, the CUV-styled Lincoln MKT Town Car, are challenging the traditional notion of luxury transportation as based on large sedan models more commonly associated with senior citizen consumers. Cadillac also is about to transition from its longtime DTS premium-sized sedan to a successor that will resemble its more practical, modern, and streamlined XTS Platinum concept vehicle unveiled last year.
As a result, operators nationwide, such as Allen, are comparing, testing, and evaluating chauffeured vehicles like never before as they snatch up the last Town Car Executive Ls and weigh decisions on future fleet compositions, pricing tiers, and brand choices in a challenging economic and business travel environment.
Allen said he does not believe the Camry or Avalon are sufficiently big enough to serve as complete replacements for the larger Town Car. Allen has not yet decided on a specific model(s) to replace his Lincoln Town Cars when they age out of the fleet.
“I believe the addition of the Camrys has prepared us for the changes in the industry that will occur with the halt of production of the Lincoln Town Car,” Allen said. “The Town Car‘s combination of price, reliability, spaciousness, and luxury cannot be replaced today with a single model. I believe that fleets will have to diversify to utilize several different types of sedans to meet the varied requirements and tastes of our clients. Customization is the key to customer satisfaction. The limousine market is no exception.”
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor