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LIMA, Ohio — DaBryan Coach Builders breaks a barrier in limousine manufacturing this year, using advanced computer aided design to engineer a modified rear section for a sedan-style Lincoln MKT Town Car limousine.
These next generation converted stretches mark several milestones for the chauffeured transportation industry; DaBryan becomes the first QVM limousine manufacturer to offer the MKT Town Car stretch in both modified sedan and standard crossover configurations — a tacit admission a strong market still exists among operators for sedan-style stretch limousines following the retirement of the Lincoln Town Car Executive L sedan.
And the way DaBryan brought about this converted stretch limousine demonstrates how technology is radically refining and economizing the ability of manufacturers to offer more varied but seamless vehicle designs that retain the safety, character and mechanical precision of the original model. In a recent exclusive roundtable interview with LCT Magazine, DaBryan and Accubuilt executives explained the evolution of their revolution in limousine vehicle design. Accubuilt Inc. is a specialty vehicle manufacturing company that owns DaBryan, which specializes in limousine/VIP and funeral vehicles.
Customers want a sedan
The drive to redesign the MKT stretch limousines stemmed from conversations with longtime DaBryan clients, especially in the funeral transportation sector, said Edward Macdonald, DaBryan’s vice president of sales and marketing. “We were getting feedback from the market of, ‘Why don’t we use a sedan? We want a sedan look,’” Macdonald says. “This kept repeating itself. There certainly was a theme with many operators who wanted to have some kind of a trunk look.”
The funeral industry is bound by tradition, with funeral directors needing limousines with certain permanent attributes, says Nathan Hurst, Accubuilt executive vice president for commercial operations. “They had trouble dealing with the hatchback [on the MKT]. They have to put wheelchairs in the back. They need a closed off area with no wind coming through, or having to interrupt the [mourning] family while waiting. This was a natural and we found it was the path we wanted to go down.”
DaBryan quietly introduced the idea to select limousine operators and funeral directors, who liked it, says Larry Doyle, CEO and President of Accubuilt Inc. “The funeral industry is looking for a different, elegant look. As a coachbuilder, we have to listen to the market and provide niche derivatives.”
So the executives had to figure out a way to offer a sedan-style limousine across the board, spread among numerous brands to ensure enough economies of scale and generate a supporting sales volume.
DaBryan outsourced the engineering and development of the trunk system to a company called Triad Services Group in Madison Heights, Mich., a unique engineering service that has experience in complete vehicle design and engineering. It has developed high performance vehicles such as the GMC Syclone and Typhoon, special purpose vehicles such as the VPG MV1, and limited Volume OEM vehicles such as the Chevrolet SSR. The firm used computer-aided design (CAD) to mathematically match the specs of the original MKT rear compartment with a projected proportional and aesthetic trunk design that could be precisely evaluated and modified in computer-simulated design scenarios and stress tests, Doyle says. Triad also built a small fleet of prototypes once the CADs were accurately established.
“What we outsourced to them was the complete engineering and product development of the system, from creating the exterior look through configuring the entire frame structure and every single part with accurate math data,” Doyle says. These precision-designed, data-driven specs would then be sent to the suppliers who make vehicle parts for Accubuilt Inc. and DaBryan. The process took limousine design to a new level of diligence and sophistication, Macdonald says. “We’re taking a lot more seriously how conversions are done. This is an industry first.”
A key priority in developing the sedan-style conversion was retaining the stability and safety factors of the QVM-edition MKT Town Car. Mechanically, the Lincoln MKT Town Car is more durable than the Town Car Executive L. Doyle explained that in cutting away the MKT hatchback area, Triad kept the lower portion of the MKT — which comprises the heaviest part of the rear-end crashworthiness — as it reconstructed the inner frame fiberglass shell.
“In an industry accused of ignoring safety standards, we thought it was critical to have an application that passes all safety standards,” Hurst adds. “We want to put it first in our priorities.”
Using the CAD process, designers can adjust the metrics and specifications for safety performance, Doyle says. “With a derivative product, you do everything in a computer. You generate the surfaces and develop math models of components, and do an element analysis. So we took the MKT, got all of its math data into a computer, did a modified MKT with a new structure, crashed both vehicles in the tube (CAD image), and found out what was needed to modify [it] and be virtually identical to the [original] crash worthiness.”
A prototype crash vehicle was sent to Roush, which outfitted the interior and exterior with energy sensing devices, wiring and related measuring components. At a Ford crash test site, Ford testers crashed the vehicle in late June to make sure it conforms to QVM standards. The vehicle met both QVM and federal crash safety standards when tests were concluded and evaluated.
DaBryan began marketing and producing the modified sedan MKT stretches in July, with anticipated first deliveries to customers in August and September. A sedan-style MKT stretch limousine likely will be on display for the first time to the chauffeured transportation industry during the 2012 LCT Leadership Summit in Puerto Rico, Oct. 22-24.
The sedan-trunk and hatchback versions of the MKT will be offered in several models varying from 70-inch to 80 inch stretches, and a 120-inch stretch. The sedan-style trunk will have 23 cubic feet of cargo space, compared to 40 cubic feet on the standard hatchback version.
Macdonald reiterated that all DaByran models will feature the advanced interior touchscreen technology and control system developed by Drivesoft Inc. of New Orleans that was demonstrated on an MKT stretch in February at the 2012 International LCT Show in Las Vegas. The software system is synonymous with the touchscreen era of smartphones, tablet computers, and interactive media, such as social networking sites and gaming. Clients will have unprecedented technological and entertainment options in DaBryan limousines, enabling them to sync personal technology devices with the onboard limousine computer system.
Aside from offering limousine operators more choices, the development of the DaBryan stretch limousine model line-up is leading to a major change in the company’s processes and culture. “I looked at it from a few different points of view, from having been in the auto business and running different companies, running unique programs such as walk-in step van trucks, and [working on] sunroofs and convertible systems,” Doyle says. “We had an agenda to bring our coachbuilding process to a higher level, focusing on quality instead of [just] reverse engineering with the cut and chop process. . . We are changing the culture and skill base within our company.”
Here are some sights and scenes from one wicked cool tradeshow.
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