HOUSTON — Erich Reindl of AVANTI TRANSPORTATION wonders if the European approach to chauffeured service can work at some level in the U.S.
Erich Reindl will let his customers deliver the truth about his first Mercedes E-Class sedan.
The native Austrian who travels to Europe several times a year has observed that European chauffeured transportation services mostly use either S-Class or E-Class Mercedes-Benz vehicles to routinely transport their luxury and corporate clientele. What’s more, the businesses succeed in an economic environment of higher fuel prices, stricter green rules, higher taxes, and more government regulations.
“Why does the consumer accept a smaller Mercedes over there and we think that in the U.S. they won’t accept it?” Reindl asks. “If there is no alternative, what is the customer going to do?”
Reindl just bought a new 2011 MERCEDES-BENZ E-350 BlueTEC SEDAN, the middle size category built by the German automaker, for about $51,000. It joins his 35-vehicle fleet this week. He is curious to see if the combination of a diesel BlueTec, low-emissions engine and the Mercedes-Benz luxury label will satisfy the preferences of his clients, as has his fleet of Lincoln Town Car Executive Ls. The Town Car sedan model is in its final production year, with Lincoln preparing the 2013 Lincoln MKT “Town Car” cross-over utility model for the livery industry.
“I’m going to test the Houston market and see what feedback is from customers,” Reindl said. “I want to send it to many different types of customers, including a CEO from a large company and the occasional traveler to see what they have to say.”
Reindl is concerned that a cross-over-utility vehicle would eat into his multi-passenger SUV business. “So far, I cannot get used to this new Lincoln,” Reindl said. “A cross-over possibly could impact my SUV business, which is good business. I’m concerned that the new Lincoln may cut into some of this business. It’s a larger car [than the Town Car], and has more capacity. So far, it was always a good idea with four people to send an SUV.”
Reindl also cited two other motives for trying out the E-350:
1) Gas won’t stay where it's at now, it will go higher over time, he said. “My thinking is a gallon of gas will run in the future anywhere between $4 and $4.50 per gallon. When I’m talking to customers, everyone is price conscious. If I have to pay 20-25% less on gas, that adds up.”
2) Reindl is not sure the MKT Town Car will cost the same as the Town Car Executive L. He said Town Cars could be had in the upper $30ks. [Ford/Lincoln has not yet released official pricing for the Lincoln MKT Town Car]. My feeling is we will have to pay in the low-$40ks to the mid-$40ks. For $50k to $51k, I can get a nicely equipped Mercedes. Since we are in luxury ground transportation, to send a Mercedes to a customer may impress them even more.”
The big question marks on the E-350 are the facts that it has about two to three inches less legroom in the rear seats and less trunk space than the Lincoln Town Car Executive L. It also has less when compared to the Lincoln MKT Town Car. For passengers in most mid- to full-size vehicles, legroom is not a big deal when the right front seat is pushed all the way forward. But an E-350 can seat only two passengers with luggage comfortably, whereas a Town Car Executive L can do that for three. The MKT is designed to accommodate three as well, although with slightly less legroom than a Town Car Executive L, but it has 40% more cargo area than the Executive L.
“About 85% of the time we have one or two people in the car,” said Reindl, whose business is about 80% corporate related. “If you put the [right front] seat up, one has plenty of room. If Lincoln or Cadillac were making bigger sedans, I wouldn’t have bought this car.”
Reindl estimates he will charge about $75 to $80 per hour on the E-350, which gets fuel mileage ranging from 24-34 mpg and is expected to save money on fuel costs.
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor