What separates a client from a brand loyalist?
As long as there have been limousines, there have been gadgets to adorn and equip them. The early limousines were basic and possessed only a few items such as radios and crackling intercoms. The limousines of today have come a long way. Elaborate sound systems, flat-screen TVs, and fiberoptic systems are just a few of the many high-tech gizmos you’ll find.
Keeping the Clients Entertained
One of the most important accessories installed in limousines is, without a doubt, the entertainment system. Clients expect a limousine to possess the latest in audio and visual entertainment accessories. These systems include TVs, sound systems, and DVD players. Although some operators purchase other items such as gaming consoles, the most popular of the entertainment equipment are these three systems.
Of the three main systems, the stereo system is probably Number One. “Operators pay a lot of attention to the sound systems because it’s something their clients are very concerned with,” says Edward MacDonald, VP of sales and marketing for DaBryan Coach Builders in Springfield, Mo. “It’s probably the most used piece of electronics in the vehicle.” In fact, many operators say the sound system is the one piece of electronics that gets used by almost every client.
The style of sound system put in the vehicles is generally a high-powered system that has the normal radio bands with CD and a hookup for your client’s iPod. MacDonald says that DaBryan’s system can even control your iPod music from the stereo unit’s controls. “It’s all about convenience,” he says. “Operators want to provide the best for their clients, and the clients’ tastes these days are very sophisticated.”
For TVs, the trend has shifted toward flat screen LCD (liquid crystal display) units. “These units generally have more features and provide a far better picture than the old tube style of TVs,” MacDonald says. “Plus they’re less bulky and take up far less room in the vehicle.” In fact, these units easily can blend into a limousine’s window post which was, until recently, wasted space.
MacDonald adds that although some operators ask for plasma and high definition systems to be put in these cars, it’s not a good idea. “Because the TVs in a standard limousine are so small, the benefits of the high-definition units are pretty much lost,” he says. “So absorbing the high expense of this type of TV would not be a sound business decision.” He adds that they would be better suited for limo buses, where the builder can create an area far larger for a TV. “And as for a plasma, since they’re such a delicate piece of technology, it wouldn’t be wise to install them in a vehicle that has to drive over bumpy roadways.”
Lighting Things Up
Lighting is one of the actual WOW factors in a limousine built for the retail market. A nice combination of colored light tubes combined with some twinkling star lights can really bring out a vehicle’s interior. “One of the first things you’ll notice is that LEDs have taken over the lighting of a limousine,” MacDonald says. “They last longer and provide a high level of lighting while using less power.”
The LED lights are widely used for standard lighting in retail and corporate-oriented vehicles. However, LEDs are used in many different types of light sources. “We are now using LEDs in many applications,” says Johney Walker, sales manager for Infinite Innovations in Springfield, Mo. “Not only do they provide more light for applications such as fiber optics, but they also don’t heat up like conventional bulbs, eliminating the need for cooling fans.”
In addition to working well for interiors, LEDs have been proven to be a great alternative for the exterior coach lights. Their blue color and high intensity create a look that gives the limousines a fresh and sleek image. “The fact that the LEDs use far less power than conventional bulbs and have no need for cooling fans means they are also less of a burden on your vehicle’s charging system,” Walker says. “That means a far longer life for the expensive alternators on your vehicle.”
MacDonald adds that the versatility of the LEDs is great for creating sequence lighting. “This is a system in which the lights change according to either a preset pattern or according to a musical beat.” This system provides a great visual experience for the clients inside your vehicle.
For Comfort and Convenience
Another great advancement in limousine technology comes in the form of a control panel. Coachbuilders have been investing a great deal of research and development into new state-of-the-art control systems. “The new generation of control panels are not only a benefit for the client, but also the chauffeur,” says Steve Edelman, director of sales for Royale Limousine Manufacturers in Haverhill, Mass. “Our new touch-screen controls are more visible, more durable, and mounted on the dash where the chauffeur doesn’t have to take his eyes off the road to use them.”
These new controls contain more colors and graphics than the first generation of touch-screen controls, offering better visibility. Plus, this allows them to program the operator’s logo into the screen saver for a more professional look, Edelman says. However, the benefits of the new technology don’t end there. “The chauffeur’s override controls have a great new feature,” he says. “When the chauffeur disables a system from the front, the sunroof for example, it removes that particular function from the rear panel completely.” This way, if the client doesn’t see a control for the sunroof, then he won’t hassle the chauffeur about why it won’t open.
The new touch-screen control panels also prevent failures from exposure to extreme temperatures. “Although it didn’t happen very often, some control panels would lock up and have to be rebooted if exposed to extreme cold or hot temperatures,” he says. “That situation is no longer a problem with the new system.” The new touch-screen systems seem to have all the benefits without the worry of the old panels and control systems.
Creating Your Own Hot Wheels
MANY OPERATORS SHUDDER at the thought of designing and building their own limousine interior. However, Rick Goondall, president of City Sedans and Limousines in Queens, N.Y., wasn’t one of them. About a year ago, he purchased a low-mileage 1998 120-inch Lincoln Town Car stretch. The vehicle was a recovered theft and needed extensive work on the interior.
“I was a bit intimidated at first,” Goondall says. “Then the ideas started flowing and I got very excited at the prospect of creating my own vehicle.” Since the interior of the coach was empty, he had quite a bit to work with. Once work was underway on the bar, seats, and other parts of the overall framework, he turned his attention toward the electronics. “I wanted this car to be everything my clients could want,” he says. “Yet I still needed to be sure I didn’t get carried away and break the bank.”
All of the electronics Goondall bought had several factors he considers important:
• Everything had to be easy to operate: You don’t want to get so fancy that you have to instruct every client who gets into the car.
• The equipment had to be durable: Although you want to keep your expenses down, you want to be sure you purchase brand names that are known for durability.
• Space efficient: Don’t get carried away. You only have a finite amount of space available and don’t want to clutter it up with equipment that could have been a lot smaller.
• Easy to install: Avoid complicated hookups and difficult mounting systems. Simplicity is always best.
• Warranties: Always be sure to purchase extended warranties on all of your systems. This could save money down the road.
Goondall suggests creating a series of design drawings before you settle on any one design. Then take precise measurements and calculate your materials. “Be sure to take into account any repair or replacement of your electronics,” he says. “You don’t want to have to disassemble the entire car to replace one piece of equipment.” He suggests creating access ports for your electronics for easy access. “Also, always follow all manufacturer recommendations when it comes to wiring and fuses. The last thing you need is an electrical fire.”
Replacing Your Worn-Out or Outdated Equipment
ALTHOUGH MANY operators dread the thought of having to replace any part of their limousines, it goes with owning one. Various parts of the vehicle fail or become worn due to the excessive use of our business. However, many of the parts and supplies you need simply can’t be purchased at your local auto parts store. A/C parts, blower motors, and condenser cores are just a few of the parts you’ll end up needing. “A limousine isn’t like your typical family sedan,” says Johney Walker, sales manager for Infinite Innovations in Springfield, Mo. “Many of the replacement parts are specially made and therefore difficult to locate.”
Infinite Innovations is one of only a few companies that sell limousine replacement parts. Among those parts is a full line of electronics including flat-screen TVs, exterior coach lights, and fiber-optic lighting systems. “When a system fails, operators generally use that as an excuse to upgrade their current systems,” Walker says. “A good example is switching out an old tube TV for a new flat screen.”
When it comes to some of the more popular replacement or add-on systems, Walker says there are a few standout items:
> Flat-screen TVs.
> LED-style coach lights.
> Low amp/temp fiber-optic light boxes.
> DVD players.
> Rear view back-up cameras and monitors.
These new systems use the latest in technology and take far less current than their predecessors, so they help your limousine’s alternators last much longer. That’s excellent news for any limousine operator.
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