Drivesoft Expands "Ride-Pimping" to the Limousine Industry

Thi Dao
Posted on November 10, 2009
Drivesoft’s Jack Cali took a year to develop a prototype of the limousine switching system that could be integrated with his company’s software.
Drivesoft’s Jack Cali took a year to develop a prototype of the limousine switching system that could be integrated with his company’s software.

NEW ORLEANS — When Jack Cali, newly arrived from New Orleans, was selling his Drivesoft in-car computer system to audio stores around Los Angeles, he didn’t know where Drivesoft could take him.

After car customization specialist Mike Martin, also known as “Mad Mike,” and shop manager “Q” began installing the system in the shop where he worked, West Coast Customs, the product took off. Cali and Drivesoft have appeared in several magazine covers, at least 50 articles and product features, and episodes of the popular MTV show, “Pimp My Ride,” which featured Cali, Mad Mike, and Q in recurring roles.

Drivesoft LLC provides the Drivesoft Digital Video Audio System (DVAS), a Windows XP-based computer that controls audio, video, Windows-based applications; and has up to 500 GB of storage memory. The Driver Friendly Software (DFS) that comes with the DVAS is touch-screen multi-media software that allows passengers to play AM/FM/XM radio, MP3s, CDs, DVDs, video, pictures, and TV. Corporate clients also can use it as a mobile office PC.

A Solution for Limos

After Drivesoft was featured on TV in 2003, Cali began receiving calls, including those from chauffeured transportation operators who “liked the idea of all that storage, media, music, and videos all wrapped in one little case,” Cali says.

Eventually, two major coach builders who had seen the show contacted him. He began providing Drivesoft for installation into luxury vehicles as they were being built, instead of being an aftermarket-only product.

The limousine industry, however, may know Cali and the Drivesoft product more for its switching system. “Around mid-2006, there was a particular coach builder that was having problems with their switching system,” Cali says. “They were buying their electric controller system from another company, and they were having nightmares with it.”

Cali set out to provide a solution, taking a year to develop a prototype of the limousine switching system that could be integrated with the DFS software. The result is Drivesoft Limousine Control Software (LCS) and Digital Limousine Switcher (DLS), which control the lighting and air conditioning in the vehicles.

“We worked with a few different limousine companies for ideas that they had and listened to what they said they were having troubles with, with past switchers,” Cali says. “We fixed all the problems they didn’t like and added some of the new things they wanted.”

The reception was positive at the 2007 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, where it was revealed. “People were just excited, saying, we want to incorporate your limousine switcher and your audio system into the cars as we build them,” Cali says.

Drivesoft works with several coachbuilders to integrate the product into new vehicles, some exclusively using Drivesoft as their only switching system. However, there are operators who install it as an upgrade to their video and audio systems, and in these cases, Drivesoft ships out the product and sometimes provides installation, sending a company installer. Cali estimates this accounts for 30% of all his limousine products sold.

Advantages for Clients and Fleets

Drivesoft products are installed in party buses, stretches, SUVs, super buses, and “a whole lot of Hummers.” However, the onboard Windows-based computer makes it ideal for sedans that focus on executive transportation as well.

“Coachbuilders add things like cellular modems, printers, wireless keyboards, and mice to the system,” converting it to a mobile office, he says. Passengers simply hit the Windows XP button on the touch screen, and it becomes a PC with all its applications and can be used to type documents, prepare for presentations, etc. If the operator puts in a router, it becomes a mobile hotspot, allowing all passengers on board with a laptop access to the Internet.

Limousine fleets, Cali adds, can take advantage of the system’s large storage space to synchronize their entertainment files. “If you have 20,000 mp3s and videos you can load all your cars with on-board content to provide music and videos for your customers,” he says. “That way your customer does not need to worry about brings CD’s and DVD’s.” Clients also can bring their own music on a flash drive or portable hard drive to be plugged into the computer.

Standing Behind the Product

Cali says there is an installer in almost every major city in the country familiar with the product, ensuring quick and simple repair. Drivesoft staff also can log onto any system remotely. If an operator plugs his system into a router, Drivesoft experts can log in and diagnostically check that car from its office in Louisiana. Another support feature is screen share, where the operator can see or be shown the steps to troubleshoot his own vehicle while it is being done remotely.

Three- to five-year warranties are available which cover software updates and tech support for just about any problem. “The coachbuilders don’t need to deal with all the electrical and troubleshooting problems that they’re now faced with in their factories,” Cali says.

The switching and multimedia system costs $2,300 to $3,000, depending on features and buyer specifications. For upgrades, installation can cost between $500 and $1,000, depending on the installer and location.

What’s Next

While Drivesoft already ships systems to international clients, Cali plans to add a language feature to broaden access, starting with common ones and installing more as requested. While the Windows software already comes with that function, he plans to add it to “packages and all our icons and text on all our different menus and screens.”

By December, Drivesoft will release the new DFS CE version, which has the limousine hardware switcher that controls lighting and AC, without the full features of the onboard computer.

“There are switchers on the market that control the electrical system, and we have a full switcher and multimedia package only,” Cali says. The new product is targeted toward companies that want to spend less money, or want to upgrade an old switcher while keeping the audio system.

With 19 years of experience in the mobile electronics industry, Cali remembers the national exposure that pushed the Drivesoft product and name to the rest of the world. He recalls getting the first call from Mad Mike, and the day West Coast Customs was approached to do the show.

Cali knew its importance from the start. “I was there for that very first [pilot] car, helped those guys build it, to see where it would come, and I knew if it worked out, they would put my product on TV,” he says. Six years and thousands of products later, it turns out Cali made the right choice.

Related Topics: Entertainment, mobile electronics, software

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