Opportunity No. 1: When Ford ended production of the Lincoln Town Car, it left the livery market wide open. Ford created a version of its slow-selling MKT crossover and dubbed it the Town car, but sales remain slow because limousine services and their clients don’t see it as a real replacement for the big sedan. It’s one thing to look classy and important exiting from the rear of a limousine; quite another to arrive and get out of the back seat of an SUV, a point that seems to have completely escaped the folks in Dearborn who keep promising a renaissance of the Lincoln brand.
Cadillac, once the standard of the livery trade, lost out to the Town Car when the GM brand began downsizing. Today, Cadillac doesn’t even offer a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive passenger car, the preferred configuration for the heavy service to which a limousine is typically subjected.
However, Cadillac does have the XTS.
The XTS about the same size a the Ford Taurus/Lincoln MKS. Both cars are about 13 inches shorter than the standard Town Car and 19 inches shorter than the extended-wheelbase L series. However, while, by all reports, Ford has not aggressively marketed the MKS to the livery service, Cadillac is going after the trade, and it shows in the sales figures.
In January, Cadillac delivered 1,900 XTS sedans while Lincoln sold 909 MKS sedans and 411 MKT crossovers. Cadillac says more than 90% of those sales were to retail customers but that still leaves the better part of 200 units delivered to the livery service. Sales that Ford didn’t get. It may not sound like much of a market, but most livery service operators loaded up on Town Cars while they could, and the market will grow over the next few years as the old Lincolns wear out.
Without a longer car to provide more rear-seat room, Cadillac shifted gears and took another route to make the back seat more inviting.
The W20 Livery Package, which is sold only to commercial customers, offers heated seats, power ports and sunshades from the XTS Platinum Edition.
If more space is a must, Cadillac’s Professional Vehicles Program includes coachbuilders that GM has authorized to modify Cadillac cars.
So far, the formula seems to be working. Carey International. the world’s largest livery service, bought 150 Cadillac XTS sedans. Carey alone will be replacing thousands of their “Carey Cars,” the stretched Lincoln Town Car cars that are no longer manufactured.
So why is Chrysler missing the boat? Yes, the 300 is about four inches shorter than the XTS, but it has the same head and leg room and more hip room. The same is true when comparing the 300 to the Lincoln MKS except the 300 exceeds the Lincoln’s space in almost every dimension. It also has a longer wheelbase, which generally makes for a better ride. Then there’s the matter of the 300′s front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and the option to have a V8, which neither the Cadillac nor Lincoln can offer.
Chrysler could take a page out of GM’s playbook and add some amenities to the rear of the cabin, which is already a pretty nice place. Multiple power ports, climate controls and other things a busy executive or other VIP might need.
In January, Allpar’s Dave Zatz talked with Chrysler brand boss Saad Chehad at the North American International Auto Show (click here to read the Allpar story). At the time, Chehad said, “Our fleet guys are looking into it. It’s always about volume and investment and whether that market now is shrinking. I’m not familiar with it, honestly, of what is happening in terms of market or share of the market from the Town Car days until today.”
Zatz also mentioned some of the difficulties the 300 encountered in previous fleet sales efforts. These in included lack of rear seat room, luggage space and lack of amenities, but those comparisons were with the Lincoln Town Car, not the XTS or MKS. Compared to the currently available vehicles, the Chrysler can be very competitive in every metric except luggage space. With a capacity of 16.3 cubic feet, the 300 is at a disadvantage compared to the XTS (18.0 cubic feet) and the MKS (19.2) cubic feet.
Then there’s the question of price: Fleet prices aren’t generally published but the Chrysler 300C Luxury Edition has a retail base price of $39,995. The starting price for the Lincoln MKS is $42,870 and the Cadillac XTS stickers at $44,075.
Then there is the problem of perception. Chrysler has made a good start at moving upscale by revising the greenhouse and distancing itself from the “gangster” look of the 2005 original. This has made the rear seat a more open and inviting environment.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said he doesn’t see moving Chrysler into the premium brand category. However, that leaves the question of what Chrysler is supposed to be. Its pricing already says it’s not the company entry-level brand, so the case can be made to position it as an upscale brand. General Motors has already said that is their plan for Buick. If successful, there is always the future option of extending the chassis, adding a couple of inches to the body to increase trunk space and calling it an Imperial or a New Yorker; some of the brand’s traditional premium designations.
The real point is that, with Cadillac gaining acceptance in the livery trade with a car with fairly minor interior changes, Chrysler is holding a product that with similar changes could be effectively marketed as a competitor.
So why haven’t they?
Opportunity No. 2: SUVs are found in most modern police fleets. Originally acquired as special service vehicles, they were used for non-patrol functions such as K-9, commercial enforcement as similar functions. Then Chevrolet lowered its Tahoe SSV and began offering a “pursuit-rated” vehicle. Now the SUV could replace a standard Ford Crown Victoria in patrol and enforcement duties while carrying all the equipment the officer needed for special situations.
In 2010, Ford announced it was replacing the Crown Vic with two pursuit-rated vehicles: the Taurus-based Police Interceptor Sedan and the Explorer-based Police Interceptor Utility. Last year, 41% of the police vehicles Ford delivered were PI Utilitys. Among the agencies buying the Ute was the California Highway Patrol, which had switched to Dodge Chargers as it replaced Crown Vics. The CHP said the Ford provided sufficient pursuit capability while offering storage capacity none of the passenger cars offered and a lower price than the Tahoe. So Dodge has apparently now lost a repeat business opportunity with one of the most respected police agencies in the U.S.
As was true of the Lincoln Town Car, police departments were loathe to part with the Ford Crown Victoria, which was the default North American police car. Despite the fact, entries from Dodge and Chevrolet could run rings around a Crown Vic, the big car’s size and traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform had guaranteed it the lion’s share of the police market since Chevrolet ended production of the big Caprice in the mid-1990s. As a result, when the end of production was announced, many agencies stocked up on Crown Vics, so the need for new units will be relatively small for the next few years followed by growth as the Crown Vics are retired.
While no figures are available on the sales of the Dodge Charger Pursuit, Chevrolet Tahoe and Impala PPVs, sales of the new, Australian-built Caprice PPV totaled just 3,734 for the entire 2012 calendar year. In the same period, Ford sold 5,863 Police Interceptor Utilities plus 8,309 Police Interceptor Sedans.
Yet, for some reason Chrysler has yet to field a pursuit-rated version of the Durango, a slow-moving model that could really use the sales. There is a Durango Special Service Vehicle (SSV) but it’s not pursuit-rated, which means it’s at big disadvantage in the market.
As it comes from the factory, the Durango SSV is woefully outclassed by the Ford PI Utility when it comes to interior space. However, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The Durango is competitive with the civilian Explorer. Ford did more than just remove the third row of seats: the differences between the specs of the PI Utility and the Explorer indicate Ford either found a wad of space somewhere when they reconfigured the interior or is fudging the numbers a bit. If it’s the former, there’s no doubt Chrysler engineers could do much the same.
The Durango is a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive vehicle that offers a choice of V6 or V8 engine. the PI Utility is front-wheel-drive with a V6 as the only option. Both vehicles offer all-wheel-drive.
The big changes that transformed the Chevy Tahoe into the Tahoe PPV were mostly to the suspension to improve handling at high speeds. Like the Tahoe, the PI Utility rides about an inch lower than the civilian version. The changes aren’t trivial but they wouldn’t seem to be major obstacles.
Mopar could even offer a complete package as they do with the Charger Pursuit.
As with the Cadillac and Chrysler 300, Chrysler seems to have a vehicle that could be competitive with the products on the market now. In fact, it would seem that Chrysler, having seen the other players’ hands, could produce a vehicle with compelling features. This would allow the folks in Auburn Hills to play on a level playing field with Ford and GM, offering pursuit/patrol vehicles in two configurations to meet the evolving requirements of law enforcement and first responders.
So, once again, why haven’t they?