By on February 19, 2011

In his write-up on the new Town Car-replacing livery version of the Lincoln MKT, Jack Baruth takes on the practical issues at stake, writing

I’ve put plenty of miles on both the MKT and the outgoing Town Car. Make no mistake, the MKT is quieter, faster, more spacious, and possessed of a vastly superior level of interior technology. If you told me that I would need to run one up a curb at sixty miles per hour for the purpose of avoiding a wandering falafel vendor across 110th Street, however, I wouldn’t think twice before reaching for the old-style keys. Ford has their work cut out for them.

Well, livery fleet owners think Ford’s got its work cut out for it too… but not for the practical wear-and-tear reasons that Jack points out. No, the problem, according to the owner of one Chicago-area limo company [via AN [sub]] is that

What I heard from most people is that they’re dissatisfied. It’s mainly the appearance, which is a crossover vehicle. People are used to what they consider a luxury vehicle for their clients and this has got a bit of a van styling to it.

Yes, as is so often the case in the great automotive discussions of our day, aesthetics trump all. And in this case, the shallow critique might actually be fairly valid. Not only is the MKT seen by some as being “unrelentingly grotesque” (to borrow a phrase), but limos are typically the most traditional, conservative vehicles on the road. Though clearly the better vehicle, would a baleeen-grilled crossover impart the same sense of timeless gravitas as a black Town Car? Another limo fleet owner encapsulates the issue with a rhetorical question:

When you say limo, I know what that means now, but will it mean the same thing a year from now? Will I be thinking about the Lincoln or will I be thinking about all kinds of vehicles?

Well, is the MKT up to filling the Town Car’s shoes? Or will limo and livery buyers look to a more traditional replacement (hello, Chrysler 300)? Is the livery car’s conservative image about to be blown wide open, or is it more resilient than that?

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57 Comments on “Weekend Head Scratcher: What Is The Future Of Limos and Livery Cars?...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Has anybody asked any of the industry insiders what they’re plans are?  Say like S&S Superior Coach in Lima, OH?  I know they build a ton of limos and hearses every year. 

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      Eagle coach company made a prototype of an MKT hearse for the National Funeral Director’s show (yes there is such a thing).  I’ve seen artist renderings of MKT limos, and from behind and the side they kinda look the same as the hearse because they have a hatch not a boot, (er..trunk).

    • 0 avatar

      Time to revive Checker!

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Late again, but didn’t Superior Coaches have a plant that closed some years ago in Richmond, Indiana? We used to pass by it on the way to a plant we had in Muncie, In. years ago when I worked for a different company.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I know at one point there was a limo/hearse conversion compay in Lima that was occupying part of the old “Lima Locomotive Works” and I’d swear it was S&S.  I usually have a good memory for those things cause I grew up in the area.  (BTW if any of you ever get a chance to go to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI make sure you walk around the C & O Allegheny #1601, Lima Locomotive 2-6-6-6; it was the one of the largest steam powered locomotives ever built.  It’s one of those things where you walk around it and you get an overpowering awe of what humans can construct.) 

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      “Late again, but didn’t Superior Coaches have a plant that closed some years ago in Richmond, Indiana? We used to pass by it on the way to a plant we had in Muncie, In. years ago when I worked for a different company.”
       
      That was the Wayne-Divco, which made school buses until the early 1990s there.  After they closed, a competitor, Carpenter, took it over – and the quality of their buses was so poor in transition to the new plant, they were sued out of existence.
       
      Superior, out of Lima, made school buses also, but got out of the business in the 1980s.  Last I heard, ten years ago if I recall, they were still making stretch limo conversions.

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      Superior of Lima (a division of Accubuilt) does mostly Cadillacs now.
      http://www.superiorcoaches.com/funeralvehicles.asp
      http://accubuilt.com/company-info/about-us.html

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Here’s what I love about this site.  Someone will always come along who knows more than you.  And I mean that as a compliment. 

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Thanks for the info, as I forgot what the name of that Richmond, IN site was. TTAC is THE auto site for sure!

  • avatar
    mike978

    Ford made a mistake here – yes the MKT is objectively better but style counts.
     
    Ford’s biggest mistake was selling Land Rover and Jaguar. Because Lincoln will be shutdown in the next 2-3 years. The Lincoln dealers have lost half their business with Mercury closing. Lincoln has no international presence and <100000 US sales. So Ford cannot spend big on Lincoln. Therefore Lincoln will just languish and Ford will become a one brand company. Keeping Jaguar would have been much better – they are making money and have a good lineup of cars (all financed when under Ford). Jaguar is a true luxury brand rather than just trying to be premium (like Acura, Buick and Lincoln) and is international. The money raised by the LR/J sale was minimal (<$2B) which set against the cost of trying to salvage Lincoln looks small.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Ford’s biggest mistake was acquiring the PAG pieces in the first place. In history, PAG will be seen as a stupider, more bone-headed strategic fiasco than Saturn was for GM. Just as Saturn destroyed Olds and Pontiac, while bringing Buick to the very brink, PAG destroyed both Mercury and (very soon) Lincoln. Ford doubling down by selling the pieces they sank all of their money into leaves Ford with nothing for their efforts is all but unforgivable.

    • 0 avatar
      taxman100

      Driving by my local Lincoln-Mercury dealership is quite sad – there were so few cars on the lot I wasn’t sure it was still open. 

      Compared to the Mazda dealership next door, and the GMC dealership next to it.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Why and how the company that has managed to turn F150 pickup trucks into some of the quietest and most comfortable cruisers on the roadways of overweight America, can’t find a way to apply some of that know how to a somewhat lower riding BOF, is beyond me.
     
    In my observation, it seems blacked out Suburbans and it’s cousins have been picking up at least some of the Town Car’s business. They might be crude by MKT standards, but at least they are a well known entity amongst hard use customers, with very predictable repair and upkeep costs.
     
    Can’t point to exactly why, but If things just don’t work out according to Ford’s plans, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Sprinter derivative enter this market over time. The twin forces of expanding world wide wealth and wealth concentration, and declining public finances for road upkeep, simply does not point to a future of lessened demand for BOF livery cars.

  • avatar
    mdensch

    LIke police departments, livery services are going to forced to move away from this comfortable, tried-n-true platform whether they like it or not.  And there aren’t going to be many choices for the traditionalists.
     
    The Chrysler 300 would give them a traditional rear-drive platform but if they also want body-on-frame construction they’re going to be forced to use truck chassis, some of which we are already seeing.  If Ford offers factory-built platforms based on the MKT, limo outfitters will work with that, too.  I could even see a significant cottage industry based on rebuilding used Town Car limos to keep them on the roads for years to come.  (But, frankly, the Town Car based limo has its limitations, too.  If you have to sit anywhere besides the ‘real’ rear seat, getting in and out is a pain, you practically have to crawl on your hands and knees.)
     
    Personally, I don’t get the charm of the black limousine.  Whenever I see one I assume it’s carrying some bozo with just enough scratch to rent the damn thing for a couple of hours. No one of true wealth would be could dead in stretch limo.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    In my market for at least a decade now all of the limo companies have at least as many stretched SUVs as Town Cars. Hummers, Navigators, Escalades are all popular.
     
    A late friend of mine who owned a limo company bemoaned the demise of the Excursion. He said the one ton chassis was the best platform for a stretched limo ever built.

    I have never seen a Sprinter stretched limo but I think it would be a good choice because of the headroom, you could walk out of one.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    Two reactions.  One satirical: finally, Maybach finds an opening in the market!  One serious: we all made the transition from Checker cabs to “regular car” cabs… is that perhaps a precedent?

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    The modern stretch limo is a fairly recent phenomenon.  I am old enough to remember when you saw a limo, it was a rare sight reserved for the rich.  The Cadillac Fleetwood 75, the Lehman Peterson Executive Continental, and the Ghia Crown Imperials were vehicles you saw mainly on TV.  By the late 60s the Mercedes 600 had taken over as the high end limo of choice.

    Lesser, more utilitarian limos came from the funeral coachbuilders as Dan mentioned.  Armbruster Stageway started making the multi-door Lincoln and Chrysler limos.  I drove one of these (a Lincoln) in the late 70s, and it was NOT a luxurious vehicle.  More like driving an airport shuttle.  This is the market that the Town Car had.  But I guess people in these could pretend that they were in one of the Real Limos (see above).  Everyone says that they will miss the Town Car here, but I am not sure.  The Suburban/Expedition is beefy enough to stretch and makes a nice big partymobile.  The MKT is a little more Luxe, but I wonder about its durability.  Maybe Chrysler has the best chance to take over the semi-class limo market.  Cut it in two and weld a big frame to the bottom.   Party limos will do fine with the trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The “factory limos” were freaking cool.  Everytime I see one on eBay I’m glad that there’s not enough money in the bank account or I’d proably end up with one.  There are times when I think if I bought  a panther platform it would have to be a Town Car L, I just love the more subtle factory strech, looks so much more classy. 

    • 0 avatar
      mdensch

      Dan, if you want an affordable factory built limo be on the lookout for a Chrysler K-car stretch.  Extremely rare, but they’re out there and would be cheap and easy to keep on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      Actually just saw a private owner driving an early 90s 6 door stretch funeral car this morning.
      A little rough for funeral service, but still very sound.

    • 0 avatar

      My sister-in-law’s late father for some reason bought a 1953 Cadillac Fleetwood limo made by the factory. ’53 was the first year air conditioning was available from Cadillac and the heat exchanger and fans were mounted in the trunk under the rear parcel panel. electric windows, and in addition to the back seat there were a couple of jump seats. I think it had mohair upholstery. It must have been around 1977 when my brother got it running. It really just needed a tune up but the brakes were trashed. I remember we drove all over Detroit trying to find wheel cylinders for the drum brakes, finally finding some in an old auto parts store in a pretty rough part of town.
      It’s a classy ride for sure. We were driving it around, my pants were kind of dirty and I didn’t want to mess up the upholstery so I was sitting on the floor in the back. At a light a new Fleetwood (not a limo) pulled up next to us. Sitting on the floor I could see over the roof of the other car. I’m 5’6″ and I’m not sure that I could see over the ’53.
      I’ve never been able to convince my sister-in-law’s brothers to rent it for proms and stuff. I understand Panther love and all, some day maybe I’ll have a Mark VIII, but in terms of cool factor, if I’m going to arrive in comfort and style, the back of a big black ’53 Caddy limo sounds just right.
      http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4086/4992024179_de197e236d_o.jpg

  • avatar

    Chrysler 300’s  – especially the new ones with the Pentastar V6 are going to be a solid goto choice for a luxury limo.  The technology ranks right up there with Ford Sync  (I’ve tested the new sirius XM travellink/Uconnect touch).  The car is cheaper than Ford/Lincoln and the parts are cheap and plentiful.
    I do think Chrysler should try again with the crossover. Using the LX platform, they could rejuvenate the Pacifica with the Pentastar V6 and have a solid competitor if they put their minds to it.
     
    Lincoln is definitely stupid to not keep the Town Car. I understand they had to sell Jaguar but I think they could have made serious waves if they had a redesigned Town Car and an  XJ-like “Lincoln Continental”.
     
    Hyundai is also going to capture a significant share of the luxury limo market with the Genesis and the Equus. “RICH people” ain’t buying no “Hyundai Equus”.   Working poor can’t afford one. Therefore, it is logical to use both Genesis and Equus instead of Lexus or Mercedes Benz S-class since they cost less, cost less to fuel and cost less to maintain.
     
     

  • avatar

    I was picked up in some Japanese thing once. It was a big sedan, not really a stretched limo. But it had about the proportions of, I dunno, maybe Chrysler New Yorker, or maybe a Town Car. It was in 1997, not that long ago.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      That might be the Toyota Century – which is a JDM only car, produced in very limited numbers and used by Japanese corporate executives and top government officials, including the Prime Minister and the Imperial Family (who I think have a specially modified version). 

  • avatar
    skor

    All the local corpse valets have gone over to the stretched versions of the DTS to haul the dearly departed’s still living relatives behind the hearse.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I would agree with the MKT being ‘unrelentinly grotesque’ it needs a good makeover.  I wouldn’t say the old Town Car is all that pretty but at least it’s inoffensively banal. The Fusion and the Fiesta are far better looking.  I’ve wondered why (other than price) why the Flex hasn’t been used as a cab, or airport shuttles and such.  It’s roomy, reliable and not that bad looking.  It certainly would be an option to using a Town and Country van for a cab.  Maybe Ford should offer a stripped Flex for fleet service. 

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I was ferried in a Flex when in Chigago in October 2009.  (I’ve talked about it before on other threads.)  It was black, white roof, and black leather interior.  The driver was dressed like the ones who usually drive black Town Car L models (black suit, white shirt, black tie) it was conservative, quiet, comfortable, and soaked up Chigago potholes good enough that my lady fell to sleep and stayed asleep as we pulled away from the downtown hotel and took the 45 min ride to the airport.  We were “treated” to such an experience after riding to the hotel 3 days pior in a beat up old Crown Vic taxi because her sister has a position within the hotel chain. 

    • 0 avatar
      panzerfaust

      I’m glad to hear that, wonder if Ford has? I think it’d look good in a checker cab livery,

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Dan, now I know there’s a Flex in your future!

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      We’ve sold Flexes to airport shuttle services here.  As far as ride quality goes, I don’t think the Flex gives up much compared to the MKT, and as far as the looks of the vehicle go, the Flex might actually be more conservative and work better for some.  I do think it would be a smart move to push the Flex as a possible livery vehicle.
       
      As for why Ford is pushing the MKT, my thinking is that it makes a certain amount of sense to replace one Lincoln with another, and the MKT isn’t selling as well as hoped, so perhaps it’s a way to amortize parts costs over a larger number of vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Well, since the livery trade is all image, the flex would need some sprucing up. The front clip is too plain, and while you can get away with the hatch, the third row seats would have to go and a partition installed. A party limo can be made more cheaply with a custom body on a truck chassis than stretching a flex.
       
      A factory long wheelbase 300, DTS or Continental would probably work best for all but the party limos, but will any of the three makers do it, and at what price? My choice would be a long wheelbase Continental, because it has suicide, er, carriage doors suitable for glamorous exits.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Speaking of the future for limos, here’s a look at the past. This one hauled Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum.
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/stories/702-july-2010-1951-dodge-limo-good-enough-for-marilyn-monroe-and-robert-mitchum.html
     

  • avatar

    I’d be embarrassed getting out of an MKT limo.

  • avatar
    DaveA

    Who cares?  Let them ride in stretched Suburbans.  How big is this market anyway?  Like someone else said – the import clients will ride in Maybachs/Rolls Royces, etc… the rest of the ‘rich-for-a-day can do with a BOF SUV.  I kind of like the stretched F650’s in Vegas anyways -excess for the sake of excess for ass holes.   

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Manhattan Black Car services have been taking another look at the renewed Mercedes R-Class with the Bluetec. Also seen some Avalons, not too many. Chrysler 300 should be a natural way to go or strech the MKZ the same way the Fusion got longer. With the fleet network Lincoln has in that market chances are the MKT will win. Its not winning anywhere else. Not in privete, not seen in rental fleet either.
    The Flex seems very wide and people do not worm up to it’s looks. I do. It’s a great vehicle.

  • avatar

    I once had the idea of starting a taxi cab company called Limo Cab. The idea would be to buy late model used limos, equp them with hack licenses and meters and be simultaneously the fanciest cab and the cheapest limo in town. It’d also get a lot of airport runs, which my tax cab buddy friend told me were the most profitable and tipped best.
    As livery fleets switch over the the MKT I can see used Town Cars getting turned into cabs and gypsy hacks.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Town Car based stretch limos are landfill at 100K miles. A used one is as luxurious as a sunken yacht. You’d be better off getting regular Executive-L Town Cars from livery services. The time for doing this would have been the beginning of 2010 though, when Obama’s proclamations about persecuting corporations that held conventions put many of the livery companies out of business. Lincoln doesn’t even bother with the Executive-L trim any more, now offering only the personal car trim level in both wheelbases. Maybe they were bitter about the inventory of repo’d livery cars.

    • 0 avatar
      The Wedding DJ

      Someone in Sterling Heights or Clinton Township (MI) was doing that a few years ago.  I think they had three limos, all older boxy Cadillacs, they used as cabs.  Don’t know how successful it was, but I haven’t seen them in a few years.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I doubt that any one vehicle will replace the Town Car in the world of taxi substitutes. Last week our “Town Car” service from JFK to Times Square was actually a well equipped Chevy Tahoe. Given New York’s winter this year, 4wd is a nice thing to have!
    Also, the argument that taxis need to be rear wheel drive seems to be rather out of date. New York’s yellow fleet is now chock full of Nissan Altimas and Ford Escapes in addition to the once all powerful Crown Vics. The panther platform is going away and will be replaced by a host of vehicles. The oddity which had one platform dominating the hire car, police car and taxi business was really a historical oddity, and it is over.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Z71_Silvy

      The panther platform is going away and will be replaced by a host of vehicles.
       
      Why make one vehicle to get the job done when you can make several.
       
      Must be the way forward…

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      NYC taxi fleets also include minivans, which are FWD.  I’d like to hear from any Gotham residents who might vouch how durable they are in daily use. 

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    Limo operators, who need limos for more exclusive clients, are going to have to contract with custom coachbuilders.  The platforms will probably be truck-based; once CAFE shrinks the trucks they may have to build from scratch from the ground-up.
     
    Of course the cost of these rigs is going to go through the roof; and that will reflect in the prices the remaining limo operators charge.  It will render the stretch-limo, once again, the exclusive transport of the richer-than-God-and-dumber-than-dirt crowd; movie starlets and lottery winners.
     
    More mundane group transportation will have to use charter buses.
     
    BUT…how will ANY custom limo-builder get his Federal safety certification, CAFE rating, and the like?  Exemptions, maybe?

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Limo companies stopped making their own because even attempting to develop a sound platform to work on is questionable and would cost them profits for a decade.  The simple answer is buy an expensive large sedan or SUV and chop it into the shape they need.  The Town Car soldiered on longer than it ever should have.  The Crown Vic for police work was wonderful, I had two detective specials from 1997 & 2000, both ran like champs.  But as a refined luxury vehicle one has to step back and say no.
     
    Most of the limos I see now are either Hummer or Expedition.  If it’s car-based and not a decade old (i.e. town cars) it’s a Cadillac.  The limo industry is more or less halo for the car companies.  There is no real money except for the fleet sales which could be make up elsewhere or by doing some simple stretch work in-house.  Lincoln can turn it around but will have to wait a bit longer, the lag time in product perception is about 8-10 years.  Ford is already in about year 3, Lincoln is close in between year 1 and 3 depending on the model.  So by 2016 Lincoln will be a major player again as long as ford has no major setbacks and can introduce a lincoln sports car or something that isn’t just stately luxury.  Bring out a fusion-based IS-fighter with the mustang’s V8.

  • avatar

    I don’t see why Chrysler wouldn’t pounce on this opportunity much like they did the law enforcement market Ford abandoned.

    In fact Chrysler showed a lightly stretched 300 concept in 2006 for this very purpose.

    http://www.caranddriver.com/news/car/06q2/2007_chrysler_300_long_wheelbase-auto_shows

    They should dust this plan off and start pitching it.  I’m sure they would find plenty of business.

    GM should be doing the same thing with the Escalade, which is a Cadillac with a full frame and RWD.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Ford is pushing the MKFlex to fleets for one simple reason…it has been a colossal failure (just like it’s twin the Flex) in the retail market.
     
    The Town Car is a superior vehicle in that it’s cheaper than the MKFlex, it’s easier and cheaper to modify than the MKFlex, it has a presence that the MKFlex…or even ANY modern Lincoln will NEVER have, etc.
    Lincoln will soon be a fleet brand only…as their products, including the MKFlex, are mediocre at best when compared to the other options in the industry.  For the same money as the MKFlex, you could be riding in a nice Audi….rather than a half-assed, rebadged Ford.
     

  • avatar
    50merc

    Nice to see other people now supporting the idea of turning the Flex into a limo or Town Car replacement. I was feeling like a voice in the wilderness. Turning the Flex into a limo makes so much sense. Cut off the last two feet of the roof, give it a three-box shape with a trunk, put chrome-streaked creases along the top of the fenders, and voila, the “Continental Town Car.”
    Now the Flex has nice second-row seats, but Ford should go check out the Equus. Sat in one today at the Jacksonville car show. Hyundai truly understands how to treat a CEO who leaves the office, sits down in that La-Z-Boy like rear seat, pulls a cold cocktail out of the chilled compartment, and tells the driver, “Home, James.”

  • avatar
    Ronman

    I still don’t get why this town car version and Limo ready HD version are not done on the MKS rather than the MKT… then again, IF ford sells the tooling for the TC to a third party in which it owns some shares, they can see to it that fleet town cars, limos and Hursts can still have a Lincoln badge on them… but i would go for an MKS stretch over an MKT any day of the week…
     
    I also wonder why Chrysler doesn’t take advantage of this shift at Ford and introduce a heavy duty 300 for fleet duty,….

  • avatar
    cfclark

    Run-of-the-mill livery cars (not limos per se, which is a different animal) in LA are now generally Tahoes, when they’re not Town Cars. Note that they’re not Ford/Lincoln vehicles. The 300 (or a supersized “400” as mentioned above) would seem to be a logical choice for this market. I have yet to see an MK-anything as an airport-pickup livery car at LAX.

  • avatar
    prattworks

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but does riding or being seen entering/exiting a limo equate to a luxury experience in anyone’s mind?  In my experience they’re only rented for high school dances and bachellorette parties to wine country – and typically smell like disinfectant and gasoline.  I can see where the hearse market needs a rig, but couldn’t they be served by a Ford Transit or Dodge Sprinter?  And how often does a typical funeral home need to replace the fleet?  They travel at 10 miles per hour and get rubbed down with a diaper every day.  Limos are dinosaurs…let them die.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    Another market Ford is throwing away by neglecting the Panthers.

    I’ve noticed this year that the higher end livery companies here have already started the switch from real Town Cars to Chrysler 300s and a few Navigators. I am assuming that something similiar is taking place in most other major cities’ as well.


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