10/14 update: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for more scrutiny of stretches nationwide.
Every livery operator wonders what the livery vehicle will be like. What safety features will we find? Will party cars become the mainstream limousine, or will versatility for different types of clients be the key? And conveniences and amenities — how will they improve?
Of course nobody knows for sure. The best anyone can do is speculate by looking at past trends and how the industry has evolved because of them. However, when attempting to find answers to these questions, it is best to go to the people who have dealt with the changing tastes of the industry — the people who build them.
While speaking to different coachbuilders, several suggested trends surfaced. Their thoughts were mainly on three areas: safety, durability, and versatility.
Safety is Always a High Priority
In speaking with the coachbuilders, the subject of safety always made its way as the first concern. The passengers, chauffeur, as well as other people on the roadways, are a top priority to them. “It’s more than just a concern — safety is our top priority,” says Edward Macdonald, vice president of sales for DaBryan Coach Builders in Springfield, Mo. “Every step of every design is scrutinized for safety.”
Macdonald believes there may be an incident in the near future where more scrutiny will be on the safety of our industry. “There are companies out there that are building vehicles 180”, 220”, and even up to 320”,” he says. “If they were meant to be stretched to those lengths, the original manufacturers wouldn’t mandate 120” and 140” as limits in their certification programs.” He also adds that nobody knows these vehicles better than the original manufacturers, and if they say the vehicle can’t handle lengths beyond 140”, then people need to pay attention.
With almost no outside regulation on vehicle specifications, it will probably take a severe tragedy to get people to focus on the safety of these vehicles. “I hope that it doesn’t happen, but it’s inevitable,” Macdonald adds. “When vehicles are built with little or no regard to FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), problems are bound to surface.”
In fact, several areas have adopted rules governing the maximum sizes of limousines. Connecticut, for example, sets their standards according to CMC (Cadillac) and QMV (Ford) program guidelines. “In Europe and the U.K., we see the regulating agencies getting tough on non-certified limousines. It’s only a matter of time before that attitude spreads throughout the U.S.”
Macdonald also predicts more safety features coming from the technology boom. “New technologies are always evolving to new and exciting levels,” he says. “But those advancements that make things convenient, many times also enhance safety.” With everything factored in, it leaves no doubt that the future limousine will be built with safety in mind.
Building the Vehicles to Last
Another concern shared by operators is durability. With the budgets of company owners remaining tight, the last thing they want to do is constantly repair or replace their livery vehicles. With new vehicles possessing more equipment and technologies, there are more delicate systems that can break. Redesigning the control systems and other added features to be more functional and durable have become an important part of coach building.
“Durability and functionality go hand-in-hand,” says Steve Edelmann, director of sales for Royale Limousine Manufacturing. “Operators invest a lot of money into these cars. They expect them to be easy to operate and be built to last.” A great example of great functionality and durability is the new control systems in their vehicles. The easy-to-use touch pad controls have no knobs or switches to break and have proven to be more durable than earlier control systems.
Edelmann adds that since many operators do their own service work, the vehicles need to be easier to maintain. “Functionality works on this level as well. Most of these guys work on their own vehicles but don’t have certifications in electronics or mechanics. The easier it is for them, the better they like it.” All lighting, fuses, relays, and light boxes are easy to access and repair.
Cutting-edge technology doesn’t only appear in the vehicle itself, but also in the construction. Building these vehicles has evolved from the initial cut, to installing the wiring, down to mounting the stretch panels. “Everything is done with the operator in mind,” he says. “With better technologies come better processes, and with that comes better products.”
When it comes to the future limousine, Edelmann is sure that these vehicles will live up to their predecessors. “Just look at how far these vehicles have come in just the past five years. Technology is still moving forward, and as coachbuilders, we are doing the same.”
One Vehicle Can Serve Many Markets
As any operator in this industry can tell you, this is a high overhead industry. With body-style changes, always-changing fads, high fuel costs, and many other expenses involved with livery, operators can’t afford to own two separate fleets to satisfy both corporate and retail business. “It’s always better to own one vehicle that can be of service to both industry segments, says Dow Brooks, general sales manager for Krystal Enterprises, Inc. in Brea, Calif. “Versatility is the key to a successful business.”
Brooks says vehicles that are “over the top” when it comes to flash are attractive vehicles, but are only targeted at one market segment. He believes it makes more sense to have the resources to make everyone happy rather than to target only one part. “It doesn’t make sense to restrict your company to one market, or to buy two vehicles to do the job of one,” he says. “It’s called strategic allocation of resources, and it’s the only way to remain competitive.”
His vision of the future limousine is one that is designed to meet many needs. If a vehicle is too bland, or if it is too flashy, you are stuck catering to only a select group of people. However, when you look at it from Brooks’ view, a vehicle with the proper balance of flash and elegance can be used to haul a group of party goers to a nightclub and then be used to pick up executives the next morning.
Brooks adds that he sees this philosophy, which is the mindset at Krystal, becoming the more dominant factor in the industry. With livery companies trying to gain more market share while still adhering to a strict business plan and budget, versatility is the key to the future. “A mechanic doesn’t just repair one type of car,” he adds. “He diversifies his abilities so he can gain more business. He’s only one man, but he can work many types of cars.”
That philosophy has become commonplace in most every corner of the business world. Companies that used to be exclusively retail limousine services are now changing to total transportation companies. What used to be a targeted market has now become a “wide-net” business model. “Limousine companies have had to recreate themselves to be able to follow the client from the wedding chapel to the boardroom to the dance floor, and the limousines have to be able to do the same.”
Whether you purchase a livery vehicle a month from now, or 10 years from now, you can be sure that it’s only going to get better. Limousines are far better than they were 10 years ago, and in 10 years they will be far better than they are today. With the tireless dedication of the great coachbuilders of our industry, we are guaranteed to be in very capable hands.
An Ol’ Favorite Remains
Earlier last year, when the announcement came that the Lincoln Town Car may disappear, the industry was abuzz with concern. Operators feared that the loss of the most popular livery sedan/base unit would leave the industry in a bad situation. However, all fears were put to rest when Ford announced the retention of the Town Car.
“I think this is an exciting time for the livery industry,” says Doug Walczak, limousine and livery Manager for Ford Fleet. “With Ford’s continued commitment to the livery industry, only great things can happen.” Walczak adds that he sees the livery sedan evolving to meet the needs of the marketplace. “Although I am not able to go into any details about what our future plans are, I can assure the livery industry that it only gets better from here.”
When asked about the possibility of incorporating electric and hybrid technologies into livery vehicle, Walczak replied, “Everyone is working on alternative fuel vehicles. We are all committed to providing cleaner and more energy efficient vehicles without sacrificing the room, comfort and convenience that livery customers demand from operators.”
What Changes do Operators Want?
LCT asked several members of its Editorial Advisory Board “What is one feature or improvement you would like to see or change for the limousine of tomorrow? Here are the ideas they shared:
·Michael Renehan, president of Allaire Limousines, Inc. in Farmingdale, “N.J.: Fuel Efficiency! Our industry is in a precarious situation and we are just barely flying under the radar. We must prepare for the “Greenies” to eventually have the media attacking us as “non fuel efficient.” To a degree, it’s already happening with the daily attacks on SUVs and the people who prefer that type of vehicle.”
·Tim Rose, president of Flyte Tyme Limousine in Mahwah, N.J.: “GPS navigation systems need to become standard equipment in all base units. Right now, the Town Car is not equipped with navigation and that has become a critical technology in our industry.”
·Andy Poulos, president of Montreal Limousine Worldwide, Montreal, Quebec: “The vehicles need to be more technology savvy. The stretched units should have the latest technology, such as wireless Internet, available to the passengers. It would also be great if the Lincoln-L and the Cadillac DTS-L would both add Bluetooth technology to their base units.”
·Richard Kane, president of International Limousine Service, Inc. in Washington, D.C.: “The vehicles need to be more functional for the passengers. Giving the clients the tools to conduct their business while providing luxury and comfort is what sets our industry apart from the taxis. Another thing to improve functionality is to add a place in the sedans to store chilled drinks for the clients.”
·Roger Hamelin, president of Prospect Limousine, in Prospect, Conn.: ”The high-tech features that are being offered in the high-end vehicles should come standard in livery units. Features such as GPS navigation, smart cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, and touch-screen controls, would be very useful for efficiency as well as safety.”
·George Jacobs, president of Windy City Limousine in Bensenville, Ill.: “The vehicles need GPS navigation/tracking systems built in. DriveCam is also another piece of technology that would be beneficial to limousine operators.”
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