MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH, & HAPPY NEW YEAR: Happy Holidays is so unsatisfying; which holidays are we supposed to be happy about? Christmas? Memorial Day? Arbor Day?
LCT Magazine wishes everyone the seasonal Christmas greeting of choice as we take a break from LimoCentric. We'll be back on Monday, Jan. 5, refreshed and reinvigorated for 2009 with stockings full of blog posts.
LCT Magazine looks forward to big changes and plans next year. The year kicks off with the central global event in chauffeured transportation: The 2009 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Jan. 26-28. Register now. If you wait until after the New Year, well, we still want you to attend, so holiday procrastination can be excused. May Santa arrive in a limo. . .
Here is recent proof
how a chauffeured transportation company can find demand for multiple vehicle niches, and provide needed services. Smaller airports, second-tier resort/vacation cities, areas without adequate public transit -- all need consistent ground transportation in all types of economies. -- M.R.
GLOBAL WARMING DISSENT: If dissent is truly patriotic, then let us indulge some more skepticism and subversion on global warming hysteria, especially as the northern half of the U.S. glosses into a massive ice-over. . .
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While reading this news piece
on Pittsburgh Transportation Group hiring a new HR manager, it struck me once again how many sizable operators have over the years expanded their fleets beyond chauffeured transportation. And that also means taxis, which is ironic since the taxi industry has been hostile many times to the limo business when it comes to lobbying and pressuring airports and state/municipal bureaucrats to go easy on taxis and take it out on limos. Perhaps this will change that picture long term as taxi companies continue to lose revenue and chauffeured transportation expands. And perhaps the long term growth will be tied into operators becoming transportation companies and not just limo companies. Metro Cars (Taylor, Mich.) and Harrison Global (Waltham, Mass.) operate taxis along with chauffeured vehicles. AFC Corporate Transportation (Houston) has put school buses into its mix. And there are plenty of other operators who are building impressive transportation fleets especially through motorcoaches and shuttle/limo buses. The management duties are similar: hiring and training drivers; financing, maintaining and remarketing fleet vehicles; dealing with licensing and regulation mandates; setting up corporate accounts. Once you get into the transportation business, you can expand those skills and resources into ancillary markets. This could be a way to stabilize revenue and profits during economic downturns. -- J.L.
UNAFFORDABLE, IMPRACTICAL LUXURY:
We don't know of any operators who rent out a Bentley -- yet -- but even the highest of the high end is going bio-chic, as in ethanol and other fuels made from our food supply. We at LCT have an overt hostility to bio-fuels. The spectre of rich clients and royal families floating along in Bentleys supplied by the foodstuffs of lesser mortals really rubs us raw. This auto green blog
makes a good point about clean diesel as a more sensible option. Mercedes (www.MBUSA.com
) has hit upon the right formual of clean diesel and low-emissions with its Mercedes R-320 BlueTec
model, new for 2009. This ideal vehicle for livery will be reviewed in the March issue of LCT Magazine. -- M.R.
Major car rental companies like Avis and Hertz are trying out several new outfits. Hertz is checking out car sharing
, and will compete with Zipcar. Avis and Hertz have invested heavily in the U.S. off-airport/local car rental market to compete with the largest rental fleet in the world, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, as reported recently in LCT Magazine
. And what else... hmmm, let's see, did I forget to mention chauffeured transportation? Avis is working closely with WeDriveU to enter major American markets and bypass for-hire licensing fees and regulations. Hertz is pushing Worldwide Executive Limousines in global markets, and is also taking steps to set up operations in the U.S. These are well funded, global competitors for limousine operators to take on, but it's not clear yet whether Avis or Hertz will be successful and choose to stay in this industry.
NO 300s FOR 30 DAYS: Dismal Detroit gave us a first taste of bankruptcy today, shuttering all Chrysler plants for 30 days due to dwindling sales. For chauffeured transportation, this obviously affects the livery and limo-friendly Chrysler 300. No worries about finding available models, though, since there is plenty of inventory in showrooms. Only problem is many buyers can't get the credit they need. -- M.R.
We wonder if the global warming aficionados along California's thespian coast will chill out now
about massive, destructive, cataclysmic temperature increases that will leave us all parched on Mars-like terrain. And even if that did happen, we'd still need big, bad chauffeured SUVs to get around. -- M.R.
Registering before the end of December for the International LCT Show will save you $80, which gives you a few more bucks for holiday gifts. We're looking forward to connecting with operators, coachbuilders, tech companies, insurance and finance companies, and association officers. A big chuck of attendees are coming from other countries. These are highly stressful times for the industry - all the more reason to attend and get reinvigerated, educated, and well networked with affiliates and suppliers. We'll see you soon - this is happening Jan. 26-28. Read all about it and register soon.
The Brits tend to be very enthusiastic about American-style limousines, and strongly embrace the industry. So this story
certainly resonates in the U.S., and points to trouble ahead.
ACTING OUT: We must give the Screen Actors Guild and its coterie of thespians some credit: They sure know how to enchance an epic economic drama.
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GREATER CALIFORNIA LIVERY ASSOCIATION: From Tuesday night meeting in Los Angeles: The good news was a lot of operators showed up, and realized the importance of commiserating and connecting. The bad news was summed up by NLA President Richard Kane: "The economy sucks." More below. . .
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The Screen Actors Guild is prepping for a possible strike during the holidays and union members will vote on January 2. The Writers Guild of America strike lasted 100 days and ended right before the Academy Awards. Operators lost business: "Among the hardest hit were owners of Los Angeles-based limousine companies: with actors boycotting awards shows such as the Golden Globes in support of writers, chauffeurs were left idling in their busiest months of the year." Read on
for more coverage.
Operators at the Pearson International Airport in Toronto have to deal with "scoopers," the Canadian term for illegal limousine operators who prey on tired passengers waiting in ground transportation lines. Casey Jason, a Toronto area operator and chairman of the Ontario Limousine Owners Association, recently was quoted in the Toronto Sun warning
operators about the practice. LCT Magazine recommends that the industry find a legal way to render these scoopers the transportation equivalent of pooper scoopers. -- M.R.
The fact that Air Tran is flying into the nation's second country music capital may seem like a plus only for air travelers and airlines alike, but such expanded service to second-tier tourist spots carries a lot of potential for motorcoach operators as well. The more airlines expand into such markets, the more likely its flights can be packaged with comfortable, chauffeured motorcoach tours and transportation service. Towns such as Branson, Mo. lack extensive public transportation, and motorcoaches can provide reliable options beyond just rental cars at a airports. Example here
. -- M.R.
GET READY FOR MORE:
Sales, mergers, and acquisitions of limousine and chauffeured transportation companies will become more common throughout 2009. Sample sale here
. This economic trend is being addressed in the January issue of LCT Magazine and no doubt will be discussed at the 2009 International LCT Show in Las Vegas, Nev. Sales and consolidations, however they might temporarily winnow down the industry, can position companies to strengthen for the long haul. -- M.R.
Buses ready to roll
during tough economic times.
Limousine operators do a ton of charitable volunteer work in this country. They tend to be quite pleased, as do their staff, with reactions they get from community members who adore getting free limo rides. The ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" provides you with a very good opportunity to add to an experience that people will love and never forget. You'll feel good about it and many times will get publicity. Local papers love to cover
the stories, and you can mention this in your own company news and websites. If interested, you can email
the show's management. Looking forward to hearing all about it. -- J.L.
COULD BE WORSE:
As the Big 3 automakers fail to win federal bailout funds, there's talk that one or more of these companies may declare bankruptcy. GM and Chrysler stressed the point they need immediate funding to stop gap December losses. But if they do declare bankruptcy, it's not the end of the world. It is something happening in big numbers
in the U.S. now for consumers and businesses, but federal judges overseeing bankruptcy cases don't shut the doors overnight. It could very well mean layoffs, revised labor agreements, downsizing production lines, and renegotiating with suppliers. And reinventing their mission statements and business strategies. If your company must consider bankruptcy, it could be worse. -- J.L.
GREEN & LEAN: No two words will better describe the trajectory of chauffeured transportation in the next few years; the combination of green and economic pressures will squeeze operators increasingly toward the motorcoach business.
In fact, this blog entry sums up the advantages and appeal of big buses. While we think counting carbon footprints is silly, the much more substantive reasons for eco-busing stand: reduce consumption of oil, clean up the air, take more vehicles off the road, and promote the safety and ease of group ground transportation.
Look for the private sector to seek out motorcoaches for both corporate and recreational transportation needs. It's cheap, comfortable, and chauffeured. -- M.R.
It's that time of the year again... time to help your community by taking drunk drivers off the road. Chauffeured transportation companies know a lot about this, and some add this public service announcement to their promotions.
There' a lot being said on the subject by:
1. NY 54 Limousines in Chandler, Ariz.
2. Post-Tribune Columnist Bob Kostanczuk
3. Texas DOT
We hope you enjoy your holidays and help your town enjoy theirs. -- J.L.
Americans are being implored, begged, beseeched, nagged about bailing out the Big 3 automakers. Why such desperation? Are we getting the full, accurate picture of options and consequences? Should colossal bungling and irresponsibility by management and unions alike be rewarded with our taxpayer money? This alternative view
provides some sobering facts that say, NOT SO FAST. -- M.R.
The holiday season is not a good time for corporate business trips; that starts up again in mid-January. Holiday packages are as good as it gets. Smithson Limousine Service in Des Moines
has been doing holiday light tours for the past 20 years. Family and friends love the two-to-three hour rides. A lot of operators market these deals on their websites, and some put out press releases and newsletter announcements, and end up getting publicized in local newspaper coverage. You can expect consumers to spend less this year on holiday tours, just like they're doing at shopping centers, but every dollar counts. -- J.L.
Stretch limousines have been controversial in England as they've entered the market in recent years. Operators had been transporting in sedans for years until young people became obsessed with stretches and caused problems on narrow United Kingdom roads. A Welsh mother just got into trouble
for trying to kick a mirror off a limo; it's not clear whether she doesn't like limos or was too plastered to do anything else. The deal is, there's no good news on stretches in the UK.
JIM LUFF SAYS: Another New Year’s Resolution Coming – Yeah, let’s try losing weight again!
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The Obama Inauguration next month gets bragging rights for attracting record crowds, but now transportation providers and traffic coordinators are realiziing the challenge of getting everyone around. More than 10,000 charter buses
alone will descend on Washington, D.C. We're pleased to see the best of chauffeured transportation on display: thousands of buses, SUVs, sedans, and limousines. But where will they park them all? One operator told LCT that he is providing free subway tickets to any clients who get stuck in traffic. In any case, there is no excuse for anyone to ride alone. And let's remember the inauguration of the 44th as the one where chauffeured transportation came to the rescue. The politicians can thank the industry with less regulations. -- M.R.
FINE LINE: Should you cut your fuel surcharges now that gasoline is headed well south of $2 per gallon? Will clients resent surcharges in a down economy? Would you be seen as gouging your customers? Or is maintaining a fuel surcharge a way of recouping earlier losses?
These companies, including a limousine operator, are staying the course.
Each operator needs to evaluate fuel surcharges individually, considering markets, revenues, client tolerance, and cash flow. But at some point the question will beckon: When is it time to let it go? Many businesses thrived without fuel surcharges, even when gas was in the $2 to $3 per gallon range. We're entering a dicey business climate that may not be forgiving to fuel surchargers, and consumer backlashes can be quick and brutal. Remember the lessons about greed that the current economy is teaching. Pay attention. -- M.R.
LIMOBSCENITIES: If you are easily offended, then DON'T CLICK HERE. Avis has circulated what the chauffeured transportation industry would consider porn. It's set off a massive chain-reaction e-mail flare-up among major operators nationwide and key people connected to the NLA and LCT Magazine.
The Avis/We Drive U transportation travesty has the potential to remake the face of chauffeured transportation in America -- and not for the better. What the whole issue demonstrates is the absurdity of excessive government regulation. When there are too many stupid, costly rules to follow, there is not only confusion and reticence about how to enforce them consistently, but more incentive to avoid them altogether. Hence, the presence of illegal operators and the faux-quasi-poser chauffeur service called Avis We Drive U. The regulation-exempted Avis operations are as potentially damaging to this industry as the union-driven card check legislation. Avis either needs to follow the same rules, or the rules should be thrown out for everyone. It's all the more reason for operators to stay connected, stay on the offensive, and of course, JOIN THE NLA AND COME TO THE INTERNATIONAL LCT SHOW next month -- now, more than ever, your livelihood depends on it. -- M.R.
DC LIMO OPPS: Operators in the Washington, D.C. metro area are set to reap revenues from the once-in-a-four years inaugural festivities. We HOPE that the chauffeured bonanza described below will foreshadow the results of economic CHANGE that will restart the economy with AUDACITY and boost the fortunes of chauffeured transportation. Well, we can at least DREAM. -- M.R.
From The Washington Post: Limousines are being booked, and hairdressers and aestheticians are being reserved at a pace they've never seen. "It's as if we're not even in a recession," said Lena Tali, owner of Blackberry Limousines in Sterling, Va., which is renting a "Hummer package" for $1,700 a day, a 10-passenger limousine for $1,400 and a Mercedes S500 package for $1,200 -- fuel, taxes and gratuities included. "I'm sure we'll be booked up for the five days. I've got people calling me from all over, even out of state. They aren't even worried about the prices, because they know it won't be cheap."
After a painful bout of hyper-inflation for gas this year, the ensuing credit collapse, and the dunking of the Detroit 3, we very likely will see a permanent shift in vehicle preferences. The three factors just mentioned only strengthen the market for greener vehicles -- luxury and everything else. More evidence here
. -- M.R.
ONE DAY AT A TIME:
Day trips by bus are a good source of revenue, according to a study by DePaul University
. Charter and tour bus trips usually cover weekends or longer, but intercity day trips are a growing market factor. Soaring gas prices motivated the consumer surge, but enough of them truly enjoyed the luxury experience to continue booking rides, according to ABA. Intercity trips can be marketed to both retail and corporate customers - wine tours, historic city sites, sporting and concert events, company meetings - all of these can happen in one day and can lead to more group travel and event reservations.
SO SHOULD YOU?
With gas now below $2 per gallon -- even in California -- c'mon, do you really need the fuel surcharges? This cab service
, doesn't. Discounting and special deals may not be the preferred image of luxury transporation, but they sure are the buzzwords for the consumer economy of 2009. That applies to chauffeured transportation, too. With gas below $2 per gallon, we are now back to 2005 pricing levels. Were many operators levying fuel surchages back then? -- M.R.
AHH... MEMORIES: Holidays bring up both stress and joy for Jim Luff, plus a great opportunity to give thanks and gratitude to employees.
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NO, NOT THE UGLY CAR: The climate experts! Once more, we see a news report about some unusual evidence of climate cooling. What should arouse our skepticism is the seemingly knee-jerk qualifier that always crops up in these type of climate accounts. . . .
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With so much focus on economic problems and industry challenges, we are glad to see a reminder of the right priorities in life. This limousine company provides an inspirational and heartwarming service
-- no money and marketing needed, just a big heart. We hope every chauffeured transportation company in America takes a cue from this example; it certainly puts money matters into perspective. -- M.R.
Package tours and trips are an important way to build bus business. If you're going to spend $400,000 plus on a new motorcoach, the vehicle needs to be utilized at a strong enough rate to cover costs and build profits. Setting up corporate employee commutes is very good, and working road trips, and company special events. To succeed, building good retail business helps accomplish goals, as Reston Limousine
has learned. Reston sends out attractive email promos all the time to highlights its New York shopping extravaganza and other exciting trips. -- J.L.
Why are Big 3 CEOs riding in hybrids
to lobby for federal loans, instead of private jets or non-hybrid luxury cars? It's all about putting out the right image. Automakers need federal funding, and have come back for round two of lobbying efforts - and want to avoid criticism for the image they're projecting. Corporate execs learned this lesson in recent years and have been switching out of stretches and into sedans and SUVs. Having hybrids and other alternative-fuel vehicles ready for executive transportation continues to provide revenue opportunity. High-level execs still need to be chauffeured, and want to look good when stepping out. -- J.L.
SIGN OF THE TIMES?
For all the talk of consumer cutbacks, we are intrigued by this motorcoach trend
. It seems there is still a healthy market for luxury, RV-style, customized motorcoach buses. This seems like a logical niche within luxury transportation. While RVs obviously are not chauffeured, we can think of endless configurations of luxury motorcoaches that could be, with the "rock star" bus being the most prominent example. Why be confined to small to medium party buses, when the next size up offers so much potential? -- M.R.
CORE STRATEGIES: The limousine and chauffeured transportation industry, at its heart, is a premium, luxury-oriented service. So there is always a segment of clientele that for all practical purposes is recession-proof. Whatever financial hits they take, the losses won't impinge on lifestyle. Since luxury transportation closely tracks luxury goods consumption, operators should note the latest marketing trends among upper-end retailers who cater to the wealthy. Just as these retailers are fawning over their core demographic to keep them spending, many luxury transportation operators may well consider the same. Reaching out with special promotional events, giveaways, packages, and "buzzy" tactics, may be one worthwhile strategy to cover the core clients and get through this recession. -- M.R.
MORE DRAMA: Ford CEO Alan Mulally just told the Wall Street Journal he's concerned that GM and Chrysler may not survive. OUCH!!!
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JUST IN CASE:
Ford Motor Co. submitted a plan to Congress yesterday outlining its strategy to restore profitability, or break even, by 2011. Ford will be introducing electric and plug-in hybrids, eliminating its corporate jets, cutting executive compensation, and asking its labor union to be more flexible. Ford is asking the feds for a $9 billion line of credit, but believes it can get through the financial crisis without borrowing the money unless market conditions sink way down. The Detroit News is carefully tracking this story
along with news updates and analysis of GM and Chrysler's lobbying efforts.
FLAIR FOR LIMOS: With the overdose of bad news about the economy and struggling operators, we at LCT are always looking out for the positive glimpses of this industry , and today, we found one. This Tampa Bay operator brings a wholesome, community-minded approach to his work, and can serve as an inspiration to others in the chauffeured transportation industry. Success can happen anywhere, during any time, and depends more on attitude than anything else. -- M.R.
Mountainbikers, hikers, and outdoor recreationists are a potential new market for greener livery, given the growing popularity of eco-vacations and eco-tours among members of Gens X and Y. One Colorado operator
has capitalized on connecting clean ground transportation with the even cleaner pursuits of biking and hiking. -- M.R.
Stay tuned for much more coverage of charter and tour bus news and management topics in LCT Magazine starting in the February issue... and a new LCT blog focusing on the bus business and what's happening with motorcoach and shuttle buses. Having buses in your fleet and marketing them to the right customers is a great way to build business, even during a recession. It's a very important industry sector for LCT to expand its coverage. When you talk to operators active in the bus business, they'll tell you two industry associations are important to know about and consider joining. One is United Motorcoach Association
and the other is American Bus Association
. Their websites are chock full of industry info and resources.
BUSY MEDIA DAYS AHEAD:
As president of the NLA and CEO of one of Washington, D.C.'s highest profile chauffeured transportation companies, Richard Kane will be getting lots of press in coming weeks as the Presidential Inauguration draws near. His company is preparing to service its 10th Presidential Inauguration, having first provided vehicles for the big day after President Richard Nixon was re-elected in 1972. Here is the latest interview
in the DC Examiner. -- M.R.
CLASS, TIME FOR RECESS(ION): A panel of academic economists now has officially decreed that the U.S. has been in an economic recession since December 2007. Thanks for the breaking news, you academic whipper-snappers. Maybe if they had been hanging out a bit more with Main Street businesses they could have figured things out faster and been more in tune with solutions that actually work.
We've always understood recessions to be two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, which very likely will mean the third and fourth quarters of 2008 -- as opposed to the whole year. At this point, being a quarter or two off is no worse than most other economic predictions. Frankly, Americans are fed up with the "expert analytics" of "acadumbic economists." All the MBAs, finance gurus, Wall Streeters, Ivy League "gee-whizzers," Fed pontificators, academic economists, investment economists, government economists, moronic economists, etc. could not effectively evaluate or maintain our entire economic system for the better part of this decade. It's time again for us private-sector taxpayer grown-ups to take control, and of course, bail out the idiots. -- M.R.
Headline we'd like to see: WAL-MART SHOPPERS TRAMPLE WALL STREET CREDIT SWAPPERS
The National LImousine Association recommends that its members support the combined request of GM/Ford/Chrysler for federal funds to stave off bankruptcies. The chauffeured transportation industry is a major buyer and user of luxury vehicles built by the Big Three. Endorsement here
AND THE WINNER IS:
Being nominated for, and winning, awards offers excellent publicity opportunities for operators. You'll see press releases launched on companies getting the nod from LCT Magazine and Limousine Digest. Another good opportunity is winning local business newspaper awards. Ultimate Class Limousine once again won the Long Island Business News award for Best Limousine Firm
. US Limousine and M&V Limousines were runners up. And for the seventh year in a row, Greene Classic Limousines has won the Atlanta Business Chronicle
award for top ranked local operator. How do you win these awards? Apply for them, as you would for LCT's Operator of the Year, and do a complete, professional job. Think of it as submitting for a corporate contract. -- J.L.