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New York livery dealer David Bastian prepares for the advent of the 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car as the Towne Automotive Group marks 25 years as a seller of Fords and 42 years as a seller of Lincolns with the grand opening of a new facility.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Towne Automotive Group could be credited for two standout attributes: Longevity and good timing.
As one of the leading Lincoln livery dealers in the U.S., Towne marks 42 years in business amid plans to open a new Lincoln showroom and facility in October — just in time for the arrival next year of the 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car.
MKT on the way
The MKT Town Car, which debuted at the 2011 International LCT Show, replaces the Lincoln Town Car Executive L. Ford Motor Co. wraps up production by Aug. 31 at its Oakville, Ontario assembly plant, 66 miles from the Buffalo-area Towne dealership. For limousine vehicle dealerships such as Towne and its customers, the advent of the MKT Town Car marks a major transition, not just in vehicle styling but in the sales and marketing of the vehicle as well. In fact, the MKT hits close to Towne’s home: 25 of its parts are stamped at a Buffalo-area plant, such as sub assemblies, outer skin, doors, hood, fenders, and lift gate.
“The challenge is going from sedan to crossover,” says David Bastian, the commercial sales manager at Towne Livery. Bastian, 40, joined Towne in 2007 and started its limousine/livery fleet sales program. He previously worked for 15 years in sales at other Lincoln Mercury dealerships in the Buffalo, N.Y. region. He says he is well aware of the culture-shock surrounding the new styling.
“A lot of people in the industry think that a crossover (CUV) is a soccer Mom vehicle,” he says. “The challenge is to get the limousine operators to accept the change. The MKT Town Car will be similar to what operators already have; it’s not as wide and long, but the MKT will give more headroom and more cargo room and more technology. . . . Once they do the research and compare the MKT to the [Toyota] Avalon, Mercedes or BMW, or any product out there, they will [conclude] that this is the best choice of vehicle in the auto industry.”
New showroom for Lincolns
Towne plans to open a 30,000 square-foot Ford/Lincoln sales and service facility on its property in October, which includes a new 10,000 square-foot showroom for Lincoln vehicles. The grand opening will coincide with the 25th anniversary of its Ford franchise, which it acquired on Oct. 15, 1986. Towne’s Lincoln/Mercury franchise dates to its opening in 1969.
The new Lincoln facility will be in sync with the revamped Lincoln models that Ford Motor Co. will be debuting in the next few years as part of a sweeping brand upgrade, to include the 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car. Ford already added the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid to its limousine livery fleet line-up. The mid-sized luxury sedan, which can be extended six inches by Royale Limousine Manufacturers, ranks among the most fuel-efficient luxury vehicles on the market.
Town Cars sell big
Meanwhile, operators nationwide are swamping Lincoln dealerships such as Towne with bulk orders for the 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L, which Ford manufactured in higher quantities this year to meet the surging, swansong demand. Bastian notes that the Town Car demand is typical of vehicle buying patterns among auto consumers: They are fiercely loyal to an outgoing model and buy up the last ones, hesitate on the new model, flirt with other vehicle options, and then finally embrace the new model.
“The MKT Town Car will be successful, but there certainly will be an adjustment period,” Bastian says. “My experience with product lines is that whenever a new one comes out, there is a rush for what people already know and like. We expect strong demand on the Town Car for a long time.”
Old & New Towne
Towne Livery reflects the confidence of its parent dealership family of Towne Automotive Group that along with Fords and Lincolns has sales divisions for BMW, Mazda, Isuzu, Hyundai, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Mini. The dealership was founded in 1969 by Frank Downing, Sr., 74, who retired in 2003 but maintains his ownership interest. Towne is run by his two sons, Frank Downing, Jr., president, and David Downing, vice president.
Towne’s legacy is built on its original relationship with Lincoln/Mercury, and later Ford. Over the decades, Towne steadily advanced in its sales rankings. Last year, it finished 45th out of about 1,055 U.S. dealerships in Lincoln vehicle sales, and 70th out of about 3,175 dealerships nationwide in Ford vehicle sales. Within the Pittsburgh sales region, Towne ranked second out of 200 dealerships in April in Lincoln sales.
This year, Towne Livery is on pace to sell enough Executive Ls to rank seventh out of the top 10 nationally in sales among Lincoln livery dealers. Bastian cannot report exact sales numbers, but says Towne’s are especially strong given that Buffalo is not a major livery vehicle market. That requires more work to get more volume since most customers do not walk in the door, Bastian says.
Fast Facts Breakout
Name: Towne Automotive Group/Towne Livery
Location: Orchard Park, N.Y.
(suburb of Buffalo, N.Y.)
Founded: 1969 by Frank Downing Sr.
Owners: Downing family
Executives: Frank Downing Jr., president;
David Downing, vice president
Commercial sales manager: David Bastian
Vehicle brands: Ford, Lincoln, BMW, Mazda, Isuzu, Hyundai, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Mini.
Livery brands: 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L, Lincoln Navigator, 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid [2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car coming in 2012]; Ford Expedition EL, Hyundai Equus, Chrysler 300
Annual overall sales: $240 million
Ford/Lincoln sales: $135 million
Total employees: 340
Contact: (800) 730-3683Ford transformed
Towne has benefited from the overall high glow of Ford Motor Co., which in recent years has ascended in vehicle quality rankings in Consumer Reports and J.D. Power surveys. Ford vehicles now are comparable to leading Japanese brands in quality, efficiency, and performance. The top selling Ford is the Fusion, and for Lincoln it’s the MKZ, Frank Downing Jr. says. “One thing you have to give Ford credit for is we don’t have a single product now that isn’t best in class. Now we have a logical line-up: Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Taurus, etc. It’s a great line-up that makes sense.”
Ford quality and styling upgrades, along with dealership mergers, have been major drivers of sales growth at Towne, Downing says. “We consider ourselves to be more in the people business than in the car business. We got the best people from the stores we consolidated.”
The improved fortunes at Towne come after the auto industry toughed out some of its biggest challenges in the last few years: the recession, diminished credit and lending, auto company bailouts (but not Ford), high gas prices, volatile consumer demand, and shifts in product preferences.
“Some years you think you’re the smartest person in the world and all is going well, other years the ups and downs feel out of control,” Downing says. “With the wild swings, the market crashing, and not knowing bottom, we had to manage business and inventory that we had no control over. Those times always make you stronger. You learn as you go through these things. Now, the industry can’t build enough product for current demand. Inventory is low.”
Lincoln for the long haul
One area where Ford Motor Co. is working to catch up is with the Lincoln brand, which it hopes will match Ford-branded vehicles in popularity, Downing says. Media reports in recent months, including articles in the Wall Street Journal, have detailed Lincoln plans to aggressively revamp and promote its vehicles.
“Lincoln definitely was late to the game on change perception,” he says. “It declined year after year for a decade. It was just perceived and in reality an older wealthy man car. People always aspired to be in a Cadillac or Lincoln, then Lexus, BMW, Mercedes came in. Lincoln is still reinventing itself. Cadillac got ahead of the game in the last three years. But we’re seeing a younger, more affluent buyer coming in. If you get them in once, you can retain them in the product line. . . yet we are still retaining the older buyer. Lincoln is starting to do a better job to be that car that people aspire to be in.”
2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car Timeline
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