Vehicle Review: The automaker's sedan gains evolutionary styling, but big changes underneath.
The Lincoln Town Car L Edition established the standard for the chauffeured transportation industry’s customer service experience years ago. Other manufacturers have carved out a space for themselves in the industry, including Cadillac, BMW, Mercedes, and more recently, Audi. But the Town Car is the gold standard by which everything else is judged.
When the Chrysler 300 came on the market about four years ago, operators took notice of the rear-wheel drive sedan with its distinctive look. At that time, chauffeured transportation operators voiced concerns over whether the Chrysler 300 would work as a livery sedan. The most important issue was that its length didn’t allow for the kind of backseat space that business travelers have grown accustomed to.
Two years ago, Accubuilt, based in Lima, Ohio, approached Chrysler with a proposal to produce a long-wheelbase (LWB) version of the 300, adding another six inches to the rear passenger compartment. Officially named the W.P. Chrysler Executive Series, the first models were built last year. One of the concerns that operators voiced to Accubuilt was that the interior colors and styling features were not what clients have come to expect.
This year, Chrysler and Accubuilt are able to offer the industry something different. Chrysler has a new styling package for the 300 with a dark interior (called “dark slate gray”), premium leather seats, and genuine walnut wood accents, making the car look much more like a traditional limousine/livery vehicle. Accubuilt manufactures its own, die-formed steel, extended rear doors for the 300 LWB, offering ease of ingress/egress, and packs the passenger compartment and trunk with soundproof insulation to reduce road noise. Special, sound proofing liners are also used in all four wheel wells. Options include an illuminated rear-seat writing table, appropriate for laptop computer usage.
The Touring Sedan version of the Chrysler 300 comes with a 3.5L V6 engine that gets two more miles per gallon than the Town. And for the 2008 model year, Accubuilt is offering a competitive fleet purchase program to the industry.
History of Specialty Vehicle Making
Touring the Accubuilt plant in Lima is an interesting experience. Lima is located about two-and-a-half hours south of Detroit; it’s a town with a long history of connection to the auto industry and specialty vehicle making. Accubuilt’s roots go back more than 130 years. In its current form, the company is made up of multiple brands and product lines. Accubuilt vehicles include funeral coaches, limousines (both six-door funeral cars and four and five-door VIP limos through its DaBryan subsidiary), mobility vehicles for the disabled, custom/executive vans, customized Ford pickups, and the Chrysler 300 LWB. (See sidebar on page XX for a complete list of Accubuilt brands.)
Having this much history and partnering with OEMs like Ford and Chrysler has helped Accubuilt develop its own manufacturing processes and systems similar to that of the OEMs. Touring the Chrysler 300 production line, one notices the attention to detail, uniform processes, clear signage, and visual instructions and manuals at each work station. The vehicle modification process is designed to remove as much variation as possible from car to car, in order to guarantee a high degree of manufacturing integrity. The smooth, repeatable process allows Accubuilt to produce four new 300 LWB sedans each business day.
Chrysler and Accubuilt developed the 300 LWB during a 20-month process. The project was highly collaborative between engineering teams at both companies. Many design factors had to be considered since the vehicle was being stretched six inches, and much emphasis was being placed on rear-seat comfort and professional vehicle handling characteristics.
“The 300 LWB is stronger in body torsion than the base model,” says Dennis Schlueter, executive VP and chief operating officer for Accubuilt. “We had to delicately balance the body strength for smoothness of ride along with safety factors during a rear or side impact.”
Accubuilt designed several specialized body pieces for the 300 LWB edition, including the previously mentioned back-seat doors, interior door pieces, and roof panels. The roofs are stamped by an OEM supplier to Accubuilt and come in one piece for a tight fit at the sedan’s roof line.
During the production facility tour, Schlueter, a former chief engineer from Ford Motor Co.’s truck group, took pride in explaining the painstaking manufacturing process that each vehicle goes through, whether you’re talking about the Chrysler 300, funeral coaches, or luxury limousines. During the tour, he pointed out that all Accubuilt vehicles have their primer coat baked on and sanded, prior to baking on the final coat. Accubuilt manufactures many of its own parts including doors, door components, seats, and roof liners. All materials are OEM reviewed and approved.
The quietness of the ride was something Accubuilt engineers worked hard at improving for the Chrysler 300 LWB. Noise and vibration reductions over the base model were achieved through using various materials, including spun-glass headliners and wheel liners with foam seals to create a sound barrier between the trunk and the passenger compartment.
A Joint Marketing Effort
Accubuilt is the exclusive builder of the Chrysler 300 LWB edition. Some of these sedans will be sold on the retail market through Chrysler’s dealer network; Accubuilt estimates about 25% will be sold retail and 75% will be sold into the chauffeured transportation industry. The Chrysler 300 LWB is part of DaimlerChrysler’s product inventory computer system, allowing Chrysler dealers to seamlessly order and ship the sedans to their locations throughout the country.
Accubuilt will be jointly marketing the 300 LWB sedan with Chrysler through its marketing and fleet groups. Chauffeured transportation operators can purchase the sedans through the Chrysler dealer network, which will also supply warranty service and repair. Fleet/livery operators who qualify for a Chrysler FAN (Fleet Account Number) will receive a no charge, four year/150,000 mile Added Care Plus service contract that covers 800+ components.
While the six-inch stretched version of the Chrysler 300 is relatively new, the base version of the car has been on the market for several years now, providing lots of maintenance and repair insight that Accubuilt shares with operators concerned about reliability. A handful of chauffeured transportation companies participated with Chrysler on “beta tests” with the Chrysler 300 when it first came on the market; after hundreds of thousands of miles of operating experience, Chrysler was able to use this data to fine tune the product.
Accubuilt has been hosting “ride and drive” events around the country with operators to expose them to the new Chrysler 300 LWB. The timing of the new interior package for the Chrysler 300 LWB is very good, says Greg Corona, Accubuilt’s chairman and interim CEO. “We know that operators are looking for more options,” he said. “The Chrysler 300 isn’t a replacement for the Town Car L, but it does offer them a viable alternative.”
Accubuilt’s Many Brands
Accubuilt has four funeral coach/limousine product lines, DaBryan Coach Builders and its VIP limousines, a mobility and shuttle division, custom/executive vans, a custom Ford super duty pickup, the Cadillac DES, and LCW six-door limousines. Since May 2004, Accubuilt has been owned by Paladin Capital Partners, a transportation-industry-oriented investment firm based in Atlanta. Paladin purchased Accubuilt because of its strong reputation in the specialty vehicle market, and because its diversity of products allows it to provide customers with a full line of commercial vehicles through a “one-stop shopping” approach.
Sayers & Scovill www.sscoachcompany.com
Sayers & Scovill (The S&S Coach Company) has earned its reputation in the funeral-coach industry though time-honored dedication to quality and durability. Since 1876, Sayers & Scovill coaches have integrated comfort, structural integrity, and commitment to safety.
Superior Coaches www.superiorcoaches.com
Superior Coaches and limousines combine the performance and the elegant, traditional appearance required by the funeral industry. The Superior Sovereign's commercial glass styling creates a coach of timeless dignity with a roomy interior.
Eureka offers some of the most distinctive coaches and limousines available to funeral directors. With Eureka's contemporary exterior and interior trim packages, you'll find style that works in concert with established standards of performance. Attractive clear-coat paint combines with the luxuriously padded vinyl top to create a crisp, stylish appearance.
Miller-Meteor funeral coaches feature dual bier pins, stylish yet functional hardware, elegant fabrics, embroidered shadowbox and custom-upholstered interior trim. The steel structure is designed, engineered and manufactured to provide long-term durability and safety. Heavy-gauge steel frame extensions provide strength, form and function.
DaBryan Coach Builders www.dabryan.com
DaBryan Coach Builders, located in Springfield, Mo., is a VIP limousine industry premier quality builder with highly satisfied customers around the world. Founded in 1979 and located in the heart of the Ozarks, DaBryan Coach Builders manufactures limousines that incorporate the tradition of craftsmanship for which the region is known.
Accubuilt Mobility/Shuttle www.accubuiltmobility.com
Accubuilt has been able to bring its engineering and manufacturing expertise to the wheelchair and shuttle van industry. The company builds wheelchair, shuttle, and executive vans that offer a high level of quality.
Tuscany is a leading manufacturer of luxury custom vans and wheelchair accessible vans. Since 1988, Tuscany has increased sales dramatically and the company has grown to be Ford's #1 volume producer of luxury custom vans.
Accubuilt Trucks www.accubuilt.com
Accubuilt, in close cooperation with Ford, produces a complete line of specialized F-Series trucks, from F-150 pickups through F-550 Super Duty haulers. These trucks feature functional as well as cosmetic enhancements and are highly rated by the Ford Truck Quality Program.
Cadillac DES www.accubuilt.com
Accubuilt is the largest Cadillac Master Coachbuilder, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all custom-built Cadillacs produced worldwide, including the Cadillac DES Luxury sedan, sold exclusively by Cadillac dealers (based on the Cadillac DTS chassis).
LCW by Accubuilt www.accubuilt.com
Accubuilt purchased the rights to market and manufacturer six-door limousines under the LCW nameplate. This addition compliments Accubuilt's standard productions while taking advantage of several areas including die-stamping doors.
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