Limousines have always held a special place in the hearts and minds of the American public since their inception in the early 20th century. Limousines are a type of stretched saloon car, or a luxury sedan, with a wheelbase and bodywork which has been extended to accommodate more passengers and give them more freedom inside when travelling. The growth of the stretch limo service business really came in the late 70s and early 80s, and became a true status symbol for the new-money types who attended glamorous events in these over-exaggerated cars. Film stars, musical artists and high-powered executives would often be chauffeured to various places in style as they enjoyed the money they were earning.
The Crash of ‘87
The limousine dominated the luxury car chauffeur service industry for decades, however it did start to decline in the late 80s, particularly due to the market crash of ’87 when things took a downward spiral. The American economy slowly began to dissipate, Wall Street executives and bankers were laid off by the thousands and real estate was largely depressed. All of this worked together against the limousine market and people were less eager to reach into their pockets to splash out on such a luxury mode of travel. Due to this the limousine industry took a hit, and sales dropped successively year after year, especially for those who converted Lincolns and Cadillacs into the stretched types.
In all of the major US cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the demand was greatly reduced. Businesses like the ATC went bankrupt within a short space of time, and others such as Dillinger-Gaines were noticeably shaken by the decline, but diversified rather than folding completely. In the early 90s around 5,800 limos were being produced in the US, down almost 1,200 from a decade earlier.
From Town Car to SUV
After the general limo service took a nose dive and the market recovered eventually, town cars became a more popular option. They were not as flashy or as extravagant as a stretch limo, however they did have an elegance and charm all of their own. Businessmen loved to be driven in a Lincoln town car as it added a great deal more professionalism to their outfit, especially when schmoozing potential clients.
Slowly but surely the town car became the vehicle of choice for celebrities and city workers; they too began to be fitted with the upmarket technologies often associated with the original limousine. However, in 2011 it was announced that such town cars by Lincoln were no longer in the production cue, most probably thanks to the advent of a new and exciting range of vehicles known as SUVs, or sport utility vehicle.
Town cars became more streamlined and sexy in the early 2000s, with cars such as Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Suburban making an appearance on the scene, as well as Mercedes S classes which were sedans built specifically for luxury travel. However, when SUVs like the Ford Flex were released they took over the image of what we think of as a luxury vehicle- and how it doesn’t always have to be a small traditional car that transports us in style.
In 2015 SUV sales were up a large percentage to 32,000, and are now sitting at over 37,000 in 2017. This upward trend has been growing year on year, and now you can buy a variety of SUVs in small, medium or large styles- the ‘over $100k’ market in SUV has grown more than 130% in recent years. SUVs offer drivers both personally and commercially a number of advantages, such as safety in a crash and the extended view of the road.
A New Breed of Luxury Travel
The Navigator was one of the first, in addition to the Mercedes M-Class, that changed the face of luxury SUV travel as an alternative to a limousine service or traditional town cars. After this came the Escalade and the Infiniti, both of which were favoured more highly than long limousines. However, the luxury sedan isn’t quite dead yet, it still has a pulse and now is bought by gentlemen who like a bit of traditional class. The SUV is by far the coolest choice in this day and age, and chauffeur services are adapting to the change well, adding a whole host of them to their offerings, even opting for upgraded models with added luxury.
The limousine service as we know it is slowly dying out, however it is often called for on stag and hen parties, not to mention weddings and very special events such as high school prom nights. The functionality of the size has been called into question and been found wanting, and now the limo is a shadow of its former self yet still pulled out of the closet for the most special moments in our lives thanks to its timeless style and charm.