resim 2208
resim 2208

On March 5 in Las Vegas, car manufacturers and limousine operators gathered in convention at the MGM Grand. On the program, conferences, parties and the unveiling of gleaming buses, vans and SUVs.

But something was missing.

“There wasn’t a single stretch limo,” said Robert Alexander, president of the National Limousine Association. ” Not one. »

Twenty or 30 years ago, the stretch limo – a symbol of opulence – was the preserve of the rich and the stars. Little by little, it has become a luxury that has become commonplace, used at children’s parties or for the end of the year ball for teenagers.

Nowadays, the real limousine seems to be an endangered species. While the “limousine” name remains, this long iconic vehicle has been supplanted by the black SUV, bus and minivan.

“Limousine service is no longer the limo business of yesteryear,” says Alexander.

In 2023, the stretch limo generates less than 1% of limo services revenue; it was about 10% 10 years ago, according to the association.

This extinction is due to three cataclysms in the limo ecosystem over the years, the operators explain: first the Great Recession; then the arrival of services like Uber and Lyft; and two fatal collisions involving limousines, which led to new regulations in New York State, a key industry market.

The long “limo” lost its appeal and passengers gradually preferred large sedans and black SUVs, which were a little less ostentatious.

The stretched limo is said to have originated in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Armbruster Stageway, a coachbuilder who restored stagecoaches and carriages over 100 years ago, is credited with creating the first motor limousine in the 1920s. By 1985, the company was building a thousand units a year and was one of America’s leading manufacturers of limousines.

Around this time, several car manufacturers stopped making limousines. Specialist coachbuilders filled the void by cutting sedans in half, inserting a middle section and welding everything together. For around $50,000, these specialists promised space, luxury, a TV and even a bed, plus, of course, a well-stocked bar.

Thanks to economies of scale, the price of limousines has come down, attracting customers other than celebrities and the well-heeled. We booked them to go to the airport. A restaurant in New Jersey offered to pick up customers in a limo and then drive them home at the end of the evening. And for suburban teens, going to prom in a limo has become a tradition (as has trying to sneak aboard with booze in the face of the reluctant chauffeur). .

Limo operators like Scott Woodruff, CEO of Majestic Limo

“Every year the limos got longer and longer,” Woodruff says.

Chuck Cotton, who owns VIP Limo in Oklahoma, has been in the business for over 30 years. Its vehicle fleet peaked at 35 limousines, six party buses and four 12-passenger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans.

Then the real estate market crashed in 2008, triggering the longest, hardest recession since the Great Depression…and the beginning of the end of the stretch limo.

Businesses have had to cut spending and lay off staff. With unemployment and rising gas prices, the demand for limousines plummeted.

“The market imploded,” says Mr. Alexander.

The country was still in a recession when Uber was founded in 2009. The other big player, Lyft, was born in 2012. Together they turned the taxi industry upside down and made black cars with drivers more accessible.

In addition, two fatal accidents in New York State have exposed the dangers of stretch limos. Four women died on Long Island in 2015. The other collision claimed 20 lives in 2018 in Schoharie, 260 km north of New York. The state passed a law requiring all passengers to wear seat belts and drivers to obtain business licenses. Any uninspected limo may be confiscated.

The limo has also fallen out of favor with consumers, says Jeff Rose, CEO of Attitude, a New York City-based ride-hailing service.

“When a limo pulls up, everyone turns around to see who’s going to get in or out,” he says. These days, its customers prefer the stealthiness of a black sedan or SUV.

If the demand for limousines is not what it was in 1980 or even 2000, the chauffeured transportation industry is doing very well. But she has changed a lot.

Along with the shift to sedans and SUVs, the industry is embracing Sprinter vans and party buses. Barbara White, co-owner and chief financial officer of VIP Transportation in Orlando, Florida, says she sold her two limos, replacing one with a Sprinter. With its buses, sedans, SUVs and vans, Ms. White’s company provides more than 1,000 rides a year, mostly for weddings, she said.

Lawyer Matthew Daus, former chairman of the New York Taxicab and Limousine Commission, believes that buses and vans are the future of the limo industry.

“They will be more luxurious on the inside, but they will probably remain very discreet on the outside,” says Daus. The limousine industry is very resilient. It has recovered from the pandemic and is carving out a place for itself in the coach and charter business. »

But the era of stretched limousines seems to be over.

Attitude boss Jeff Rose says he’s already had four stretch limos among his 30 or so vehicles. Today, there are Lexus sedans and Cadillac Escalade SUVs in the garage, but no stretch limos. He sold the last one eight years ago.

“And for the two years before that, it was practically a monument,” he said.