Add one more uncertainty about autonomous vehicles: How do you get them to drive like locals?
For Charleston, S.C. operator Matt Miller, the Volvo S90 sedan he bought six months ago has turned out to be a fleet surprise. So much so he’s buying a second one, and plans to shift his entire sedan fleet over to the new model.
”We like the roominess and features dedicated to the rear seat passenger,” said Miller, owner of Coastal Limo, which runs 15 luxury vehicles. He credited the controls to move the right front passenger seat forward and adjust the interior temperature, ample rear seat legroom, and a trunk that can fit golf clubs and luggage.
”The clients and chauffeurs love it,” he said. Miller bought his first Volvo after seeing it at the International LCT Show and test driving it for a few weeks. The Volvo is out most of the day. We get requests for it all the time.”
The model year 2018 S90, which cost Coastal $41,600, ranks in the same price range as competing similar luxury sedans. He can still charge $90 for a transfer, and an hourly rate of $75. Miller, who started with one vehicle in 2012, plans to move his company to a newer, larger facility. ”We’re growing like crazy.”
For an increasing number of operators, in an industry where sedan brand loyalty has splintered since the demise of the old Lincoln Town Car, the upstart Volvo offers an alternative where safety and technology define the concept of luxury transportation.
Volvo, known for decades as one of the safest cars in the world, complements that legacy with innovations that enhance the structural safety cores of its vehicles. As operators increasingly circulate in an on-demand market driven by Uber and other transportation network companies (TNCs), Volvo’s appeal plays into the duty-of-care selling point luxury operators promote to the business travel market as well as their broad clientele.
In 2016, for example, Hakan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars, boldly stated: “Our vision is that by 2020, no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car.” Since the S90 livery version first debuted to the luxury transportation industry in March 2017 at the International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Volvo has sold about 100 of them to 25 luxury transportation operations nationwide, said Mick Morris, manager of commercial accounts and commercial business development for Volvo Car USA in Rockleigh, N.J.
Morris recently outlined some minor changes for the 2019 MY S90, which Volvo will exhibit at the LCT-NLA Show East in Atlantic City, N.J., on Nov. 4-6:
Overall, the S90 body style, legroom, and dimensions are unchanged from the 2018 model year.
Volvo has restructured its production in recent years, opting for four-cylinder only engines and building models on platforms that can be easily adapted to electric power and hybrid versions. The automaker uses two major platforms, SPA (scalable platform architecture) for the S90, V90, XC90, new S60, and XC60, and CMA (compact modular architecture) for the XC40.
“We no longer produce vehicles on our lifecycle platforms as it is not conducive to electrification,” Morris said.
While the electric hybrid S90 T8 model is not stocked among the S90s in livery spec inventory, it could be available with the livery incentives and warranties for interested operators, although at a higher base model price bought through retail or fleet purchasing channels, Morris said.
Volvo has not changed any technology or safety features on the 2019 model compared to MY 2018, but it should be noted all safety equipment comes standard on the S90 livery version. For starters, the S90 body contains several different strengths of steel and pillars with a higher tensile strength.
“It’s not so much about the safety features for the driver; it’s about entire car,” said Kyle Alexander, a commercial sales specialist with Volvo Car USA. “There are safety features that passengers experience as well. The technology enables this car to do everything possible to avoid a collision, whether with a pedestrian, animal, or another vehicle.”
As an added bonus, “If the chauffeur’s hands are full, he can wave a foot under the rear bumper sensors to unlock and raise the trunk lid,” Alexander added.
The Swedish Volvo Car Co., now owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., builds the S90 in Daqing, China under Swedish supervision. Its U.S. distribution for the luxury transportation industry is centered on port-based inventory. Volvo Cars USA keeps the S90 in stock at the five ports where it imports them: Newark, N.J., Baltimore, Brunswick, Ga., and Benicia and Port Hueneme in California. When an operator wants to buy an S90, Volvo connects the interested operator with a dealer. The pricing is pre-negotiated and the vehicle is delivered to the dealer when Morris gets the “thumbs up” from the dealer. “It’s a very efficient process,” Morris said.
Now that the S90 has served in luxury transportation fleets nationwide for more than 18 months, experienced operators can speak with some firsthand authority on how it handles real-life 24/7 luxury service.
Tom Miller, president of Regency Global Transportation in Pittsburgh, Penn., so far is getting favorable comments from clients and chauffeurs about the two AWD S90 sedans he bought in early August. Like other purchasers, he noticed the Volvo sedan for the first time at an LCT event.
“When I saw the Volvo, I wasn’t familiar with it because I had never owned or driven one, but I was impressed with the interior size and all the safety features Volvo is known for,” Miller told LCT. The Volvo is similarly equipped compared to other foreign luxury sedans, he noted, but has a lower cost to operate. “The price point is competitive with any product on the market. When you factor in the safety features and interior room, it appears to be a very solid car for our niche.”
It looks good, rides comfortable, and performs, Miller said. “We’ll see how it does over the long run with mileage and maintenance as we transition to new sedans over the next 12-18 months.” In addition to the S550, Regency runs the Mercedes-Benz E250 and E350, the Chrysler 300, and the Lincoln Continental as part of its 40+ luxury fleet spanning sedans to minibuses.
“We put some S550 clients into the Volvo and they are very favorably impressed,” he added. “I think they are very stylish cars. We’ve had more than one person on the street ask us what that car is. It has clean lines and is eye catching.”
Grace Limousine in Manchester, N.H., has run two of its four Volvo S90 sedans past the 60,000 mile mark.
“Driver feedback has been excellent overall,” said Geoff Campbell, fleet manager. “Almost all comment on what a comfortable ride it is and how pleasant from both the chauffeur and client perspectives. Some say there seems to be more legroom when you need to put a client behind the driver, when compared to a Continental. The trunk room is slightly less than a Continental, but seems to be more than adequate for two clients and good for three if they aren’t packing large pieces of luggage.”
Campbell observed the model performs strong on the road with solid mechanics. Its turbocharged 4-cylinder engine gets higher mileage than comparable vehicles, at around 28 mpg. The only mechanical issues have been a battery and two front sensors that were replaced under warranty, and having to install new brake pads before 60,000 miles, which are more expensive on the aftermarket than pads for comparable vehicles.
He praised the 10,000-mile oil change intervals and the S90’s self-contained transmission system that does not require fluid flushing. “The vast majority of our mileage is highway, which results in less wear on a lot of components,” Campbell said. “So far it seems to be a quality product.”
Add one more uncertainty about autonomous vehicles: How do you get them to drive like locals?
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