Dealerships Make New Commitment to Liveries; Critics Still Wary

Donna Englander
Posted on April 1, 1994


“Dealers do not understand the time constraints of the livery industry.” “Dealerships charge high prices.” “Dealerships don’t know how to service limousines.” These are just some of the comments that have raged for years among livery operators when discussing local Cadillac and Lincoln dealerships. 

These dealerships and livery operators have had a long, sometimes tense relationship. Often operators have complained that local dealerships just aren’t concerned with getting their vehicles back on the road quickly. They also complain that dealerships don’t understand how to service the stretched vehicles. Dealership owners, on the other hand, complain that operators want them to just ignore their regular clients and are often overbearing and too demanding.

In an effort to turn this situation around, Cadillac introduced its Limousine Dealer program almost two years ago. For this program, certain dealers were chosen in key markets that would devote sales and service efforts to livery operators. One perk they offer is the “limo lane” which provides quick service turnaround. According to sources, Lincoln is also close to offering a similar program.

According to both car dealers and livery operators, the dealerships that are most successful in this program have hired “experts” from the livery industry to coordinate their operations. Additionally, independent repair facility owners question dealerships” service expertise when it comes to the stretched vehicles.

Cadillac Offers Quick Service

 “We introduced the Cadillac Limousine Dealer Program to focus on service. We wanted to let operators know that we are interested in servicing both sedans and limousines. Hopefully down the road, our dealers will be able to sell them vehicles as well. We wanted to let livery operators know Cadillac is dedicated to this part of the market. We know service is a vital part of the larger picture,” says Jim Zoli, manager of vehicle operations for Cadillac.

The main goal of the program is to provide quick service turnaround for livery Vehicles—to get them back on the road within 24 hours when possible. To accomplish this, the participating dealers have committed to a “limo lane” which gives first attention to livery operators and stocking a parts crib with items needed by limou­sines. Cadillac provides the dealers with a list of suggested parts, and the dealers decide which parts are necessary for servicing vehicles in their areas. In addition, any parts not in stock are overnighted at no charge to the operator, loaner sedans are offered for personal use, and some dealers also offer extended service hours.

Cadillac has identified key markets to the livery industry and has established 38 Limousine Dealers throughout the United States in these markets. “We are currently evaluating mid-size markets and will invite another 12 dealers to participate in the program before the end of the 1994 model year,” Zoli adds.

Once a dealer has joined the program, Cadillac sends representatives out to train the staff. Dealers are visited six times in their first year in the program, and quarterly thereafter. During these visits, dealers are given an overview of the livery market, the base unit, heavy duty packages, and the conversion. Also covered are the unique attributes of the specialty vehicle market, service, and parts. “The follow-up presentations are modified each quarter based on market analysis, sales, and comparative data,” Zoli explains. “Some previous follow-up visits have included material on prospecting in this market, technical training on the conversion, marketing the dealership for specialty vehicle sales and service, and competitive comparisons.

“We only want dealers involved in the program who are going to be dedicated to making it work. We will be re-evaluating participants who have been involved for at least a year in June. If we don’t see this commitment, it is possible that some of the participants will be dropped.”

‘Experts’ Make It Work

After many years working for Limousine Werks, John Grant left to become involved with this program. He is currently the manager of limousines and specialty vehicles for Potamkin Cadillac in New York City. He explains, “The dealer who thinks just being a Cadillac Limousine Dealer will bring in the business is sadly mistaken. For the program to be successful, the sales and service departments need to communicate like never before.

“The catalyst for all the new activity within the dealership will be the limousine manager A dealer who has not retained an ‘expert’ from the livery industry will find many obstacles to overcome. These are the dealers on the edge of the program who will just dabble in the business and sell maybe a half dozen vehicles per year. My advice to these dealers is to build on your limousine service department and develop a reputation that is known for honest, quick, and efficient repairs.”

Dan Mahon, limousine manager of Country Lincoln-Mercury in Long Island, N.Y., also believes it is crucial to the success of a dealership trying to service the livery market to have an industry expert oversee the program. “It is important to have someone with a limousine background involved. When you are troubleshooting a problem on a limousine, you can’t do that with manuals—there aren’t any. Service departments at dealerships have a definite problem troubleshooting coachbuilder parts. The new System 2000 electrical system is making it easier because there is now some standardization,” he says.

Mahon sees some operators’ opinions turning around. “Historically, operators have wanted to save a few dollars buying directly from coachbuilders. But they found they were in limbo when they needed to get warranty work done on the base unit or stretch. They lost time trying to get the vehicles serviced. We are now offering one-stop shopping for sales and service. That is important to operators,” he adds.

Dealers who are making the commitment to the livery industry are finding service business from operators growing. “We made a commitment to the industry about a year ago,” says Gordon Schock of Quality Lincoln-Mercury in Anaheim, Calif.—who had previously worked with Kraig Kavanagh at Ultra Coachworks. “We’ve committed our service department to meet livery needs. We have parts in stock to get the limousines in and out quickly. We can accommodate repairs on stretches up to 140 inches.”

“Since we started doing this, we have been getting a lot of word-of-mouth referrals. Our service business has increased 30 percent over the past six months. I am educating the owner on the importance of the livery market. He wants to add to our program, but it was important that we started with the service aspect.”

Grant has also seen an increase in the number of operators coming to Potamkin for service. “We are probably up 200 percent in service for livery operators,” he admits. “This is a direct result of the service department coming on-line. The livery client knows to tell the service writer it is a for-hire vehicle. I found that people were not servicing their limousines when it was needed because they couldn’t afford the downtime normally associated with service. We are committed to a 24-hour turnaround. The only reason it would take that long is if the vehicle needs major engine or transmission repairs. We handle most repairs in two to four hours. For us to keep a vehicle overnight, it must have my personal OK.”

To ensure operators’ needs are met, Grant is working to make Potamkin a one-stop shop offering service, base-unit warranty and coachbuilder warranty work, and sales. He is currently in the process of developing a chauffeur’s lounge. “I’d like to make it a mini-health club with showers, lockers, and bathrooms. I might also try to get an airline screen in it,” he adds.

Service Is Vital              

 “I only started going to the dealership recently. I went because of the new program. I like the fast track of getting the cars back on the road quickly—the same day in most cases,” says Jim Sherwood of Sherwood Limousines in New York City. “We had a repair that was a three-hour book job. The car was back on the road in four hours—a part needed to be ordered. This program is great, you can now plan your day around getting the vehicle back. Before, you were lucky to get the car back in the same week.”

Sherwood, who gets his vehicles serviced at Potamkin, stumbled on the Cadillac program. “I saw John Grettenberger’s speech at the recent L&C Show in Las Vegas and heard him talking about the program. When I saw him later walking on the show floor, I approached him to complain about a Cadillac dealer who was giving me the run around about a part. He had one of his assistants give my phone number to John Grant, and when I returned home from the show, Grant had already called. Grant is right on top of all problems. He’s not just there to do sales, he handles all needs including service,” Sherwood adds.

The most important attribute Sherwood sees with the program is the quick service turnaround. “When they say they will have you in and out, they do. The service writer says the mechanic will get right on it and tells you how long it will be. Then they deliver that. It has been a dream come true I have 12 cars, so it is important to know how long the cars will be tied up when scheduling chauffeurs and vehicles,” he adds.

Critics Are Still Wary    

Bob Buckley of Buckley Limousine Service in Hartford, Conn., doesn’t believe the Cadillac program goes far enough to service the livery industry. “There are no Cadillac Limousine Dealers in my area. There are ones in New York and Boston, but that is a two-hour drive each way for me. Cadillac is only catering to large, metropolitan areas,” he says.

Buckley has had his vehicles serviced at regular Cadillac dealers in the past and was not satisfied with the service. “The Cadillac dealer turned me off. I was required to make an appointment. They said I couldn’t get in for a week. We’re just another customer off the street to them. The dealerships don’t value our business. This could just be my area, but I got the impression the dealership didn’t want to work with people who have time constraints. I only have Cadillacs. The problem might be the same with Lincoln, but I don’t know. I now go to an independent service person who understands what downtime means to me,” Buckley explains.

Pete Corelli of Lakeview Custom Coach in Oaklyn, N.J., also believes there will be problems with the new dealer programs. Corelli sells up to 180 new and used limousines each year and performed over $650,000 in service this past year. “No matter what Cadillac or Lincoln come up with, there is still an expertise problem when it comes to service,” he says. “It is very difficult to immediately become a limousine service center. There is a big learning curve involved before that can happen. Lincoln and Cadillac want the national exposure these programs will give them. The dealerships could care less on that level. Operators are not necessarily their best customers.

“There are very few clients I know of who are willing to go to dealerships. Operators are still saying they are not concerned with the time constraints. Many dealers don’t even know how or who builds limousines. I still hear complaints the dealerships aren’t adequately servicing limousines.”

Related Topics: Cadillac, dealerships, vehicle repairs

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