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Chrysler 300: livery or not?

by David Zatz on

Several news outlets have speculated about the Chrysler 300C Luxury Edition and its application to the livery industry. Chrysler has tried, briefly, to make a dent in the car service market, with its extended wheelbase Chrysler 300C line, but has not succeeded.

We spoke briefly with Tarek Mallah, general manager of Dial7, New York’s largest livery fleet and a co-founding member of the Livery Roundtable.  Tarek said there were around 22,000 livery vehicles in New York City, 8,000 “black cars,” and 4,000 luxury cars. Livery vehicles are called by end users, and act like taxis in small towns; “black cars” are paid for by business accounts, e.g. to send employees home after putting in late hours; and luxury cars are specialty items. The luxury industry appears to have largely standardized on the Mercedes S Class; at least one major service tried the R Class, but clients did not like the vehicles, possibly because they look too much like minivans.

According to Tarek, the major problems of the Chrysler 300 are rear legroom, luggage space, and reputation, since “past exposures” were unsuccessful; it was used largely by less prestigious car services, and never took off. While an extended wheelbase version could solve the legroom issue, the prestige gap is a harder problem to overcome.

Generally, Tarek said that the owners were waiting to see what develops next. The Lincoln MKT has had resistance from drivers, fleet owners, and the public; it’s seen as a minivan, and the livery package was not marketed properly, though Ford has solved the leg room issue by removing the rear bench and moving the middle seats seats back.  The Escalade “will always be requested, it has a niche market, especially in foul weather conditions,” but it is too high up (many clients are elderly and find it hard to get in), and has high operating costs. The MKS might take off if the leg room is addressed, though an aftermarket-extended version might be too expensive since the MKS is already in the $45,000 range. One major fleet tried the last front wheel drive Cadillac, and had severe reliability problems; this makes it less likely that fleets will warm to the upcoming XTS.

Aftermarket extended vehicles are one possibility, and they might not be extended versions of luxury marques, either. While the extended 300 did not work out for various reasons (including a drab interior and New York City laws), city regulations are being relaxed for such vehicles, and there are other options, including hybrids, coming into that space.

Overall, Tarek said that he was advising owners to wait for a better solution, and in the meantime, to keep their Town Cars or upgrade to newer ones. He said it might not be an important enough market for automakers to gamble on a unique model, since there might not be more than 40,000 livery cars all together in the New York City region.

In the meantime, Chrysler is working on the next generation large cars, and it is possible that, rather than attempting to alter their current models at the same time as they make Lancia and possibly other versions, they will simply wait until 2015 or 2016 and launch a car that would be ideal for livery duty. The question then is whether the livery industry will take a chance on Chrysler, and whether customers and owner-operators will accept the new car — and whether it will stand up to fleet duty, as the current Charger does.

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