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The U.S. limousine industry serves up two distinct classes of stretch limousines: 1) Those modified according to the standards of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM); 2) Those that are custom modified, based on the preferences of customers and coachbuilders.
The two leading OEM programs in the industry — the Qualified Vehicle Modifiers program by Ford Motor Co./Lincoln Motor Company and the Cadillac Master Coachbuilder program by General Motors/Cadillac Professional Vehicles — act as good housekeeping-style seals of approval for such modified stretch vehicles.
While the industry knows quite a bit about these programs, the wider general public and media do not. Such ignorance has become more apparent recently in the wake of the May 4 stretch limousine fire in San Francisco.
To set the record straight for both audiences, LCT recently talked to the coordinators of the QVM and CMC programs to review and update the latest quality standards from the two leading OEM limousine modification programs.
Bottom line: There are many safe stretch limousines on the road based on these programs.
The Qualified Vehicle Modifiers (QVM) program for limousines started in 1989 to coincide with the 1990 model year of the Lincoln Town Car. QVM limousine program vehicles include the MKT Town Car, and the Lincoln Navigator L.
“It’s very typical for Ford to produce vehicles that are modified post-OEM,” says Richard D. Cupka Jr., sustainability program manager of commercial vehicles for Ford Motor Co. “We have small mom-and-pop shops up to large manufacturing organizations that modify thousands of units per year. We help provide guidance for those qualified to participate in the program.”
Ford assesses a total of 162 different QVM participants covering many types of vehicles, such as shuttle buses, alternative-fueled vehicles, dump trucks, and snow plows.
The limo QVM program deploys a combination of manufacturing specs, continuous improvement actions, customer service, materials, warranties and engineering support so modifiers can build high quality vehicles and be consistent with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS).
The QVM program provides modification recommendations for many different parts and components, including brakes, axle weight ratios, and extensions for fuel, electrical and brake lines. QVM limousines are designed to meet Ford performance and durability standards to qualify for warranties. “The vehicles are designed for heavy duty service within the limits prescribed,” Cupka says.
Weight guidelines and testing are critical because a larger, heavier vehicle puts more stress on key components compared to standard sized vehicles, says Jeffrey Metz, QVM program coordinator.
The maximum allowable stretch length for a Lincoln MKT Town Car is 120 inches, a size that accommodates a maximum of 10 people: Chauffeur, right front passenger and eight passengers in the limousine compartment. Other allowable MKT Town Car stretch sizes include 44 inches and 70 to 80 inches. For 2013, a QVM Lincoln Navigator stretch SUV limousine only can be modified at a 140-inch stretch length — nothing more or less.
“Outside of those lengths, you may have concerns with ABS and roll stability function,” Metz says. “Our modules are designed for a specific vehicle stretch length and cannot accommodate an unlimited amount of modifications,” Cupka adds.
“If you are in those three ranges, fine. If you are outside of the [designated] sensing capability of the vehicle, it doesn’t know what to do.”
To become a QVM, a coachbuilder must write a letter of intent to Ford’s Commercial/Special Vehicle Engineering department stating that it wants to commit to the program.
“They have to meet very stringent qualifications, which usually include a self-assessment so they know what we require, and an initial assessment to address compliance areas,” Cupka says. “It’s not uncommon to have to come back one, two, or three times to address those things. We might come in and make suggestions, and then come back and check again. We have to make sure all qualifications are met before they become a QVM.”
Metz visits QVM coachbuilders once a year to assess their manufacturing processes. “In our annual visits we go over material specifications, model change and new vehicle information, along with any new processes that accompany the new vehicle,” he says. Metz emphasizes that the QVM program does not approve the vehicle itself, but the manufacturing process from which the vehicle is built.
QVM standards must be revised depending on changes from one model year to the next. Those revisions could involve processes and procedures, equipment and/or materials.
Coachbuilders that stretch vehicles beyond the QVM limits or do custom jobs on the side would have their QVM status revoked immediately. “We have to have teeth in this. If you don’t comply, you are not a participant,” Cupka says.
The Cadillac Master Coachbuilder program started in 1991 as an effort to get more involved with coachbuilders to build quality Cadillac stretch limousines, says Ray Bush, program manager for Cadillac Professional Vehicles.
“At that point there were many coachbuilders working on Cadillacs and not all had quality conversions that we would endorse, or ones befitting a Cadillac customer,” Bush says. “To improve the end-user experience, Cadillac got involved to create a program for coachbuilders that would guide and support them in making a quality vehicle better in line with the expectations of Cadillac customers.”
Under the CMC program, GM provides a specially engineered and designed chassis, known as the V4U XTS stretch limousine chassis, that is upgraded from the retail one and ready to have the middle structure section stretched from 18 to 70-inches. CMC converters may stretch the chassis up to any length in that range. [Cadillac also offers a W30 XTS-L sedan chassis that can be stretched five to eight inches].
“Prior to the program, guys who were modifying vehicles were on retail chassis, exceeding the gross vehicle weight (QVW),” says Joe Pennington, a CMC support engineer. “We took the chassis that could be modified and stayed within limits so it could be built to handle a conversion.”
The heavy duty limousine chassis has a reinforced body structure, additional parts for higher gross vehicle weight, improved front and rear vehicle suspension, a heavy duty braking system, a heavy duty steering system, a heavy duty cooling system, and an extended wiring harness. There are also specific vehicle breakouts for six-door conversion models used mostly for the funeral industry.
“We’ve created specific roof rail airbags [side impact] for CPV, and released specific calibrations for stability control and ABS based on stretch lengths,” Pennington adds.
GM does not have a CMC program for the Escalade SUV, the most popular luxury SUV model in the chauffeured transportation industry. If a coachbuilder wanted to stretch an Escalade, it would violate the CMC program. “For those who want to stretch the Escalade, they have to do it outside of the program,” Bush says.
A CMC manufacturer may not do any custom-stretch Escalades if enrolled in the CMC program. Limousine coachbuilders and operators over the years have shown some limited interest in a heavy-duty Escalade chassis to be stretched, but so far GM has not had the resources to support one, Bush says.
Since Cadillac does not actually stretch the XTS into a limousine, it does not crash test it. However, the XTS sedan is crash tested by GM based on FMVSS standards, and the individual vehicle document (IVD) that lists specifics for CMC safety compliance reflects those standards.
As with Lincoln’s QVM program, any coachbuilder interested in CMC certification must submit a business case to GM outlining its interest, provide some history about their organization and production volume, describe their facilities and the vehicles they produce, and related manufacturing details. GM then reviews the applicant company to see if it is a match for the CMC program.
“We have to be a bit selective in terms of coachbuilders and what they bring to the program,” Bush says. “We try to set a strong business foundation with a good track record for quality and be a strong partner.”
The CMC guidelines are a living document, consisting of a complete set of specs. As CMC specs change, GM issues bulletins as needed so CMC participants can update their e-files, Pennington says. Cadillac Professional Vehicles team members conduct onsite reviews about every 12-18 months of program members for quality and compliance.
The first CMC XTS limousine chassis were built in late November 2012 and started shipping the following month. Coachbuilders took delivery of them during the first quarter this year. So far, funeral industry clients have bought most of the XTS stretch limousines, with the VIP/limo stretch market still emerging.
Cadillac Professional Vehicles also provides advertising support for CMC program manufacturers, allowing them to promote their vehicles with references to the high-quality CMC brand.
Professional vehicle chassis also includes the Cadillac Professional Vehicles warranties:
Related Topics: Cadillac, Cadillac CMC, Cadillac Escalade, Cadillac Professional Vehicles, coachbuilders, crash testing, federal regulations, limousine manufacturing, limousine safety, Lincoln, Lincoln Limousine & Livery Vehicles, Lincoln QVM, QVM certification, stretch limousine, vehicle safety
Head-to-Head: Which will reign as the king of big, brash vehicles?
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