Vehicle Review: The automaker's sedan gains evolutionary styling, but big changes underneath.
Ever since Empire Coach was started by Tony, Al and Marsha Tortora in 1977, they have experienced solid growth with substantial, well-orchestrated strides. Now, Empire has reached a powerful peak and is taking a decidedly new tact to create further expansion for their empire while developing a new role in strengthening the manufacturer/dealer/consumer relationship.
As Marsha and Al put it, “Our strength has always been in building a quality car with safety and comfort built in for the driver and the passenger. We are now addressing the marketplace to fill a void which has become apparent. The coach building industry has reached a level of sophistication and demand that should carry through to the consumer. This doesn’t always happen but, with the network we’re building, it will.”
Integral to the maturing limousine industry are a myriad of problems that result with dealers handling sales and service. Empire is determined to resolve those problems by playing a greater role at the dealer level. The Tortora’s newest plans for meeting dealer needs involve the creation of a national sales organization – a network of highly experienced sales personnel who are thoroughly knowledgeable and completely professional in the stretch limousine industry. Headed by Tee Vallone and Charles Valvano, who together represent fifty years of combined auto industry experience, the Empire sales force will solidify the distributor network.
Since 1955, Tee has been in the automobile business in various positions from used car buyer to sales positions, to General Manager of a Cadillac dealership in 1980 Tee entered the livery field, seeing the growth potential at that end of the business.
Charles Valvano had established his own livery service in 1964, and then joined forces with Tee to build a national distributorship for Empire in order to create a staff of knowledgeable sales representatives. Tee and Charles plan to personally train and work with potential Empire salespeople and then place them at “qualified” dealerships to help build stretch limousine sales. Charles and Tee have found that the dealers are very receptive to their program. For the dealers, having specially trained salespeople represents additional business while no additional burden is placed on the existing sales staff. Dealers have found that they can add to their profits and gain the advantage increasing sales in other areas of their business.
As Tee said, “We study prospective market areas across the country to determine the feasibility of our product. We receive inquiries from dealers in other states and we handle those responses.” Charles added. “It takes a lot of time and energy to establish a dealer network…but it works and everyone profits from it.”
As an added benefit, Empire also trains a service person from the dealership in the conversion process and on the inner workings of a stretch limousine. As Tee says, “We recognize that a customer who buys our limousine can not afford downtime. With Empire, an operator can get their car in and out of the service department quickly because there will be a factory-trained technician on the dealer’s staff to make that happen.”
Charles commented, “The stretch business has not yet reached its peak. We would like to work with dealers in major markets who are not yet involved in the market and show them how easy it is to pick up extra business. Limousines can be very profitable for a dealership. We will not saturate the market, though. We will only choose those qualified dealers and, then, we will protect them with exclusivity in their own area.”
Why does Empire feel that their product is so marketable across the whole country? Marsha Tortora explained, “Empire will spare nothing to provide the best.” With an Empire coach, the controls are always at fingertip reach with our standard overhead control console. We have out own special tow package that includes an oversized heavy-duty radiator, auxiliary transmission cooling system, special suspension components in both front and rear, heavy duty brakes supplied by Lincoln and Cadillac, exhaust system built over the cross member for further protection a one-piece emergency cable without any splicing, and the elimination of fiberglass with a completely steel body. Empire even provides a safety strap to protect the driveshaft from failing out in the event of a problem.
How did Empire dream up all these technical changes and advances? According to Marsha and A1 Tortora, “We used to service all the makes of limousine on the road. We dissected them and learned how to improve on existing designs.” Tony Tortora added, “We knew what faults to eliminate, and we knew the good points. We improved on the good and added those to our limousines as well. We felt we could build a better car because we knew what the problems were.”
Marsha Tortora outlined the standard features for 1987 in Empire’s fifty-four inch extended Lincoln Town Car and the rear wheel drive Cadillac Fleetwood…both include a corner bar, color TV, am/fm stereo cassette, ice bucket, champagne bucket, dual partition, overhead reading lights, rear shelf package with tissue box and glass holder glass barware, overhead cockpit control console separate heating and air conditioning, tinted glass throughout, pin-striping and an intercom…all for under $40,000.
Other upgraded features include visor vanities, sunroofs, and a deluxe sixty inch extension with split bars. The sixty inch model seats six people comfortably and contains an electric bar and a video unit.
Passenger comfort has always been a mainstay with an Empire coach, but the company has gone even farther with a standard oversized driver’s seat. Empire fashions their car with driver comfort. The driver’s seat is designed to fit even a six foot two inch driver of maximum proportions. Tony explained, “We build this coach with the comfort of a driver in mind. Our narrow partition allow us to give a driver additional legroom without reducing rear passenger room. We also have a unique air conditioning system that cools the driver and the passenger with separate units. Both units use overhead cooling ducts as well as conventional low-mounted cooling ducts because we know that cool air drops and this creates a more efficient climate control system.”
Over the years, the suggestions of Empire’s customers have been integrated into the design of the limousines. One of the company’s first limousine buyers, Mel Byalick of Esq. Limousine of Rosalyn, Long Island, was involved in the design of Empire’s custom bars. Attention to customers’ needs has produced many loyal supporters over the years. Byalick, for example, is a frequent customer who recently ordered four more limousines from Empire. A seven car order was recently received from Freddie’s Limousine, of Portchester, NY a customer for the past several years. Orders are also received from quality-conscious executives from companies such as American Can Company and W.R. Grace.
Empire has always considered itself to be a leader in innovative limousine engineering and construction. The Tortoras’ efforts have transformed the company from a regional coachbuilder for the Northeast, into a nationally known company in the midst of launching an ambitious network of distributors across the country. Marsha Tortora explains that, “Up to this point, we have worked to produce the best quality limousine at the best possible price. We have been a tri-state dealer up until now. We have never been interested in national expansion. Now, with our quality product and at our price point, we are beginning to see a lot of buyer interest across the country. That’s where Charles and Tee will take over.”
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