Vehicles

Vehicle Expo Brings Big Turnout -- In Wheels And Feet

Posted on September 21, 2011
The Lincoln MKT Town Car boasts better headroom, technology, cargo space, and ease of entry and exit compared to the Lincoln Town Car Executive L.

The Lincoln MKT Town Car boasts better headroom, technology, cargo space, and ease of entry and exit compared to the Lincoln Town Car Executive L.

The Lincoln MKT Town Car boasts better headroom, technology, cargo space, and ease of entry and exit compared to the Lincoln Town Car Executive L.

The Lincoln MKT Town Car boasts better headroom, technology, cargo space, and ease of entry and exit compared to the Lincoln Town Car Executive L.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The GCLA literally rolled out the red carpet and set up the red velvet rope on Tuesday night at its annual Expo in a parking lot the along the Back Bay of Newport Beach.

Although the 194 registered members, operators and guests had to walk down the red carpet navigated by a photographer snapping their photos ala Hollywood, it was the 31 diverse livery vehicles behind and along the ropes that were the center of attention at the Expo. The event was spread across rows of vehicle displays, a tented banquet area and an outdoor carpeted reception area with a stage featuring musical entertainment.

The event was unique in that it featured so many livery vehicles in one place outside of a major trade show.

New livery landscape
The Expo was designed to highlight the vehicle competition emerging in the post-Lincoln Town Car new world order. In a sign of the industry times, only two of the 31 vehicles were stretch limousines: A Krystal Town Car sedan stretch model, and the new Lincoln MKT Town Car 120” stretch prototype that debuted in February. Most of the featured vehicles were mini-buses, vans, or Sprinter vans.

An Audi A8 premium luxury sedan was among the livery vehicles featured at the annual GCLA Expo in Newport Beach, Calif. on Sept. 20, 2011.

An Audi A8 premium luxury sedan was among the livery vehicles featured at the annual GCLA Expo in Newport Beach, Calif. on Sept. 20, 2011.

Ready to strut near the carpet were the sedans vying for market share with the Lincoln MKT Town Car, now that the leading Town Car Executive L has finished out its final model year. Operators checked out such contenders as the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid sedan, the Toyota Avalon, the Hyundai Equus, the Audi A8, and the Mercedes-Benz R350, S400 and new S350 model, just released to the U.S. market on Tuesday.

MKT in the limelight
Once again, the Lincoln MKT Town Car made another appearance as part of its industry acceptance tour since it debuted at the International LCT Show in February. Last week, the MKT and MKT stretch appeared at the LCT Leadership Summit in Miami Beach. Following last night’s event, Ford Fleet Limousine & Livery Vehicles brings its prototypes to a Taxi Limousine Para-transit Association convention in San Francisco next month, then on to the Limousine Digest Show in Atlantic City, N.J., in November, and finally, returning them to the 2012 International LCT Show in February at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

The Lincoln MKT Town Car 120 stretch limousine prototype includes a new interior that maximizes headroom and legroom. It is built by DaBryan.

The Lincoln MKT Town Car 120 stretch limousine prototype includes a new interior that maximizes headroom and legroom. It is built by DaBryan.

At the GCLA Expo, Ford senior marketing manager Gerry Koss pointed out the beneficial attributes of the cross-over styled MKT, available in all-seasons all-wheel drive. It has more headroom than the Town Car Executive L, a higher rear seat, and 40% more luggage/cargo room accessible via hatchback. For tall clients, or ones with lower back problems, getting in and out of the MKT is much easier than in a sedan. Focus groups scored the interior of the MKT Town Car with an overall 9.2 out of 10, compared to an 8.3 out of 10 rating for the Town Car Executive L interior, Koss said.

“Our decision to bring the MKT to market is based on the end-user saying it is superior to the Executive L,” Koss told LCT. During an on-stage appearance before Expo-goers, Koss said the MKT was designed as a high-tech extension of an office, with its second-row USB charging port, 110-volt plug, Wi-Fi hot spot for laptops and smartphones, Navigation, and Lincoln’s signature onboard technology suite called SYNC.

Koss told LCT that pricing information and more drivetrain specifics of the MKT models will be released next month just before the MKT order bank opens to operators nationwide. Production “Job 1” on the MKT Town Car starts on Feb. 28, 2012 at the Ford assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, with the first MKT Town Cars hitting chauffeured fleets by April 2012.

The Mercedes-Benz S350 V-6 diesel BlueTec luxury sedan made its national debut on Tuesday, Sept. 20. It is priced just under $80,000 for operators.

The Mercedes-Benz S350 V-6 diesel BlueTec luxury sedan made its national debut on Tuesday, Sept. 20. It is priced just under $80,000 for operators.

Mercedes-Benz makes a bold move
As the exclusive sponsor of the GCLA Expo, Mercedes-Benz USA brought several vehicles, including its new S350 sedan. The V-6 diesel BlueTec version of the S550 is the first S-Class diesel model available in the U.S. since 1995. A handful of S350s were distributed to dealerships nationwide Tuesday as part of the official rollout, said Frank Gomez, a national account manager for fleet operations at MBUSA based in Costa Mesa, Calif.  

The S350 sedan gets 31 mpg and has a non-stop fueling range of 700 miles. As part of a Mercedes-Benz incentive program, GCLA-affiliated operators can buy a S350 for $79,412 — $8,000 off the MSRP. About 70% of all Mercedes-Benz vehicles produced worldwide now have diesel engines, Gomez told LCT. Despite two fewer cylinders than the gasoline-version S550, the S350 still retains solid acceleration and sustained performance at high speeds, Gomez said.

The Mercedes-Benz E- and S-Class diesel vehicles have become the leading limousine/livery vehicles in the European chauffeured transportation market.

Mercedes-Benz, the exclusive sponsor of the GCLA Expo, brought four vehicles suitable to the chauffeured transportation market.

Mercedes-Benz, the exclusive sponsor of the GCLA Expo, brought four vehicles suitable to the chauffeured transportation market.

Other Mercedes-Benz vehicles appearing at the Expo included the S400 sedan (hybrid version of the S550), the GL350 SUV, the R350 cross-over model, and various Sprinter van models ranging in passenger capacity from 12 to 17. Seven Mercedes-Benz sedans, SUVs, and cross-overs fall under the MBUSA incentive program with rebates ranging from $5,000 to $8,000 per vehicle, depending on the model. The offers expire on Dec. 31, 2011. Information: (949) 460-6560 or [email protected]

GCLA membership rising
GCLA President Mark Stewart, who organized the Expo event, reported that the association has 209 members as of Sept. 21, including 176 operators and 33 vendors. That figure is up from 140 this time last year. The GCLA has a 2011 membership goal of 250 operators and vendors. There are 5,000 charter-party carrier transportation companies registered with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The next GCLA event is its annual Christmas party on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Proud Bird restaurant next to the Los Angeles International Airport.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

Related Topics: Greater California Livery Association, Lincoln, Lincoln MKT, Lincoln MKT stretch limousine, Mercedes-Benz, new vehicles, premium luxury sedans, sedans

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