Industry Research

The Year in Review

Scott Fletcher
Posted on January 1, 1991

From start to finish, 1990 was active for the limousine industry

The first year of the new decade, may well become known as “The Year of Limousine Crash Testing.” Three stretches were sacrificed at the feet of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. But a lot more happened… Associations made headway in a variety of regional issues... Coachbuilding companies started, stopped, and changed hands... And a few individuals stood out from the crowd for unique contributions to the industry. Here is a very brief look at some of the notable people and events.

Ultra on Parade

I was asleep at the time, but reliable sources report that Ultra Limousine’s 40-foot “MOUSEORAIL” was a highlight of the 1990 Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. The MOUSEORAIL was converted from the last of Disneyland’s 1969 monorails to celebrate the Magic Kingdom’s 35th anniversary. It may have been my imagination, but it also looked like Ultra’s Vini Bergman at nose guard on USC’s Rose Bowl winning football team.

A.H.A goes O.U.T

The bubbles had barely gone out of the New Year’s champagne by January 5 when A.H.A Manufacturing in Brampton, Ontario, Canada was placed into receivership by its bank. According to an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail, A.H A’s principal creditor, the Royal Bank of Canada, appointed a Toronto accounting firm as receiver after A.H.A defaulted on its loans.

Former A.H.A president Mel Stein blamed the company’s financial troubles on an oversupply of limousines in the United States where

A.H.A sold approximately 70 percent of its vehicles. He also cited eroding profits due to the declining value of the U.S. dollar compared with Canadian currency.

Tip Tax Told

In January, the IRS revised its Employer’s Tax Guide. One taxing requirement is that employees must report cash tips to their employer by the 10th of the month after the month in which the tips were received. The employer must then withhold both income tax and social security for these tips from an employee’s wages. Tips less than $20 need not be reported.

T&LC Gets Towing Authority

On February 22, legislation became effective empowering the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission to seize and impound limousines being operated in the city without a T&LC license. According to T&LC chairman Jack Lusk, the legislation is intended to stop illegal livery operators. Operators based outside of the Big Apple suspect, however, that they may be scooped up in the same net with illegal operators even though they are properly licensed in their own city and state. Local associations reported little progress on the matter at year’s end.

Washington Operators Win Regulatory Battle

The Limousine Association of Washington successfully supported a bill placing regulation of the industry under the State Utilities & Transportation Committee and eliminating the authority of municipalities to impose their own regulations. The effort was led by Len Zevenbergen of Soundview Limousine (206/851-8687) with assistance from the National Limousine Association. This was easily one of the year’s biggest legislative victories.

Limousine & Chauffeur Show

In early March, nearly 3,000 people attended the Limousine & Chauffeur Show in Las Vegas where they viewed 120 limousines and attended three days of conference sessions and workshops.

The Show featured an Awards Banquet at which Limousine & Chauffeur honored Steve Spencer of London Towncars of Long Island City, NY as our first annual “Operator of the Year.” L&C also presented an “Industry Achievement Award” to Robert Peterson who pioneered limousine design during the ’Sixties with the Lehmann Peterson Company. This was the ninth, and largest, Limousine & Chauffeur Show.

Award Winning Attire At Manhattan Limousine

Manhattan Limousine of New York City received the 1990 Image of the Year award in the transportation category from the Career Apparel Institute at the Awards Dinner at the Limousine & Chauffeur Show. The award recognizes companies that effectively use corporate clothing to project a desired image. Manhattan chauffeurs wear either a two-piece double-breasted or three-piece single-breasted black uniform with a matching cloth visor chauffeur’s cap and a striped tie.

A.H.A Revived

Barely three months after the closing of A.H.A Manufacturing in Toronto, it was announced that a new ownership group had acquired the former company’s technology and tooling along with an inventory of limousines and parts. Hilyard Manuel, president of the new A.H.A, announced plans to continue building A.H.A’s former product line-up, including flat floor Lincoln limousines which the previous ownership had introduced in 1989.

Krystal Krash Test

In order to certify that their 110-inch limousine meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, Krystal Koach of Anaheim, CA weighted one down to simulate a full load of passengers and crashed it head-on into a concrete barrier at 30 mph. The vehicle was then subjected to a rear impact test and finally rolled over to test for fuel leakage. Data from the test was then submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for evaluation.

“I am very impressed that Krystal took the initiative to perform these tests,” said NHTSA’s Robert Hellmuth. NHTSA responded to the data by requesting some additional details but, according to Krystal, the 110-inch model currently meets all of the FMVSS for which it was tested.

Rahn Farris Acquires Executive

On May 8, Merrill Lynch turned the reins of Executive Coachbuilders back over to Rahn Farris from whom they had purchased the company in 1987. Along with Executive, Farris also acquired Armbruster/Stageway which produces a separate line of VIP, livery, and funeral limousines. Farris announced plans to continue building and marketing Executive and Armbruster/Stageway limousines as competing products.

California Requires Worker’s Comp Coverage

Beginning July 1, the California Public Utilities Commission requires limousine operators to document that all employees have worker’s compensation coverage before a commercial vehicle permit will be issued or renewed. In California, chauffeuring is considered a high-risk profession which places premiums at 16 percent of the individual’s wages.

To some, the new requirement signals an end to independent contractors in the state. “If an operator declares his chauffeurs as independent contractors,” says Alan Shanedling, president of the Limousine Owners Association of California, “he is not required to have them covered by workers compensation, but that declaration is inviting an audit by the IRS or state labor board. For his own protection, an operator should make sure his chauffeurs are covered somehow.”

Limousine Operators Gain New Employee Classification

Alan Schlein of Astor/Madison Avenue Limousine of Newington, CT did a great service to the industry when he succeeded in getting the National Council on Compensation Insurance to reassign limousine companies from the taxicab classification to a lower risk category for worker’s compensation insurance as of July 1. In the new category, limousine operators will pay 5 percent for every 100 hours worked instead of 18 percent. The NLA is using Connecticut as a precedent to encourage lower rates in other states. This was also one of the year’s big victories.

Pete Corelli of Lakeview Custom Coach lights an Iraqi flag.

Encore for Earle Moloney

Earle Moloney started building limousines in 1968. During the ’Seventies, as stretch limousines began competing seriously with the traditional Cadillac formal limousine, Moloney Coachbuilders became one of the largest converters. By the time Moloney sold his company to Cadillac dealer Jacques Moore in 1986, he had built more than 11,000 vehicles.

In July, Moloney hosted an open house at his new coachbuilding plant in Lake Zurich, IL to announce the formation of Chicago Armor & Limousine. At the party, Moloney displayed a line-up of Cadillac limousines designed specifically for livery use.

L.I.M.O. Crashes a Lincoln

It was a warm July day at the Transportation Research Center in East Liberty, OH when the Limousine Industry Manufacturer’s Organization crashed a 75-inch Lincoln limousine conversion by National Coach Engineering of Pt. Sanilac, MI to test its compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Equipped with dummies, the vehicle underwent a battery of tests and data was then submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for detailed review.

The crash test culminated more than a year of research and planning by the organization of 25 coachbuilders. Design assistance was provided to L.I.M.O. by consulting engineer Bob Madison. Lincoln supplied a ’90 Town Car at no charge for the test.

“The car passed all of the tested standards,” according to LIMO president Marty Averbuch of Southampton Coachworks.

The new 4.6 liter engine in the 1991 Lincoln Town Car was inspected closely by coachbuilders who visited Dearborn, MI in June.

Pete Corelli of Lakeview Custom Coach lights an Iraqi flag.

California Sets Moratorium On Airport Fees

Another major legislative victory was secured on July 16 when the California State Assembly passed Assembly Bill 1506. Among other things, the bill placed a moratorium prohibiting airports from charging livery operators a fee based on a percentage of the overall run. The legislation also prevents cities, counties, and other municipalities from instituting “unreasonable” business licensing requirements.

The bill calls for an investigation by the state Public Utilities Commission to determine whether an fee based on a percentage of a service’s gross income from an airport trip is detrimental financially and administratively to a transportation company.

Coachbuilders Visit Lincoln

Lincoln hosted representatives from 24 coachbuilders in Dearborn, MI during July to show off the ’91 Town Car with its new 4.6 liter engine and beefier suspension. The meeting included a tour of the factory where Lincoln manufactures the Town Car, Continental, and Mark VII. After a taking laps on a test track, most of those present noted increased performance from the slightly smaller engine.

Lakeview Custom Coach Flies Flag in Face of Iraq

When U.S. troops left for the Persian Gulf in August, Pete Corelli of Lakeview Custom Coach in Oaklyn, NJ draped a 50 foot American flag across the front of his showroom. To emphasize his support for our troops, Corelli also began burning an Iraqi flag in front of his building every Friday afternoon. At press time, U.S. troops are still poised for war in the Gulf, and Corelli has burned more than a dozen flags.

L.I.M.O. Introduces Seal of Approval

Toward the end of summer, gold stickers with the emblem of the Limousine Industry Manufacturer’s Organization started appearing on limousine door jambs. For consumers, this represented the industry’s first “seal of approval.”

According to LIMO, the sticker reflects the manufacturer’s pledge to build limousines in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. In order to assure compliance, LIMO plans to send independent inspectors to each member’s plant during the year for surprise inspections of engineering designs and manufacturing processes. Only members who remain in compliance will be allowed to place the LIMO seal on their vehicles.

NHTSA Crashes Cadillac Stretch

Even though Krystal Koach and LIMO had already conducted crash tests on Lincoln Town Car conversions during the year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wanted to see how a Cadillac would withstand such abuse. So NHTSA reached into its pockets in September and bought a 60-inch Cadillac stretch for $15,000 worth of braking and crash tests.

Crash test data was not available at press time, but the vehicle failed to meet braking requirements according to NHTSA’s Harry Thompson. NHTSA required the manufacturer to recall all 60-inch Cadillac conversions for larger rear brake cylinders.

Lincoln Announces Qualified Vehicle Modifiers

In November, Lincoln announced that 14 coachbuilders have met the requirements for the newly introduced Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) program. This marked the first time that coachbuilders have been specifically recognized for product quality by an OEM.

To qualify for the program, each company was inspected by a team of Lincoln engineers. Among the areas reviewed were engineering capabilities, manufacturing processes, quality control practices, compliance with federal safety standards, management philosophy relating to quality and continuous improvement, and adherence to Ford and industry guidelines for vehicle conversions.

Year-End Limo Shows

Fall is traditionally the season for regional limousine shows. In 1990, they took place in Long Island, New Jersey, California, and Florida. Faced with burdensome operating and legal costs, associations hoped to raise funds from exhibitors while providing members with guest speakers and special events. The Limousine Owners Association of California even earmarked some proceeds for charity. With suppliers tightening their belts throughout the industry, show organizers deserve recognition for their efforts.

Gas Guzzler Tax Hits Coachbuilders

“Let’s tax those gas guzzling limos,” said Congress with the approval of the deficit reduction plan near year’s end. Starting January 1, 1991, limousine manufacturers will need to report the mileage of their vehicles and pay taxes on those getting fewer than 22.5 miles to the gallon. Of course, the cost will really be passed on to the buyer. Say your new limousine gets 20 miles to the gallon... that will make it $1700 more expensive in 1991. What a way to start a new year.

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