Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Pinnacle Limousine Manufacturing Chauffeur Driven Cover Cover Art: Pinnacle Limousine Manufacturing President Frank Figueroa (left) and Operations Manager Xavier Bermeo stand with one of their stretched Cadillac Escalades at California’s Industry Hills Golf Club. Photography by Lyle Okihara of Lyle Okihara Photography. Pinnacle Limousine Manufacturing’s President Frank Figueroa doesn’t consider himself a car guy by nature so much as a businessman who went looking for a challenge. Armed with his business degree, his cousin Xavier Bermeo’s vehicular expertise (which was parlayed into an operations manager role), and a desire to take on an industry with a high barrier to entry, Figueroa founded Pinnacle in 1999.

What started out as a small operation that rented space in another limousine manufacturer’s production facility for its first three months has grown in size, output, and reputation in the 15 years since Pinnacle entered the custom-build game. Today, Pinnacle is comfortably housed at its own shop in California’s Hacienda Heights, in a facility it’s called home since its second year of operation. Figueroa estimates that having produced anywhere between 60 to 80 cars annually for quite a few years means that Pinnacle “probably has a good 1,100” vehicles on the road today, not only in North America but also in locales as far-flung as Russia, Australia, and South Korea.

Catering to a diverse audience demands diverse offerings, and Pinnacle has customized vehicles of all makes and functions since its very first order, a Lincoln Navigator. Ranging from the ever-popular Chrysler 300s, Cadillac Escalades, and Hummer H2s to “those big 40-foot freightliners,” limobuses, and hearses, Figueroa is proud of the reputation his company’s high-quality custom builds have garnered over the years, saying that he knows Pinnacle’s vehicles, which are mostly built for the retail side of the business, are made to last—and impress.

“We get a brand-new shell and keep it classy: Our limousines look like they were put together with quality in mind so people will actually want them for weddings. It would be nice to get all the work that’s out there but I can’t drop my pricing below a certain point,” he says, adding that a lower price would mean using lower-quality parts and components, which are not compromises that the company’s willing to make.


LEGAL EASE – During the past decade, we have seen the explosive growth of social media. What was once primarily the domain of teenagers has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon: Millions of people are using social networks to not only communicate with their friends but also reach a far wider audience. In particular, businesses have increasingly adopted the use of social media to promote their products and services, and their employees have likewise embraced social media for their own personal and professional purposes. And that is where problems can arise for employers who fail to implement effective policies. People oftentimes don’t think before they post, and in a matter of seconds an employee accessing social media without guidelines as to what is—and what is not—permissible can cause grievous and costly damage to your business.

So why not just ban it all and adopt a policy prohibiting employees from using social media? Not so fast. Attempts to ban all social media use can easily run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA gives all employees the right to engage in “protected concerted activity for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection,” and a blanket prohibition against social media could be construed as an attempt to silence discourse among employees about conditions of employment.

effective social media policy legally sound

For example, in a case against Dish Network Corporation, an employee challenged his employer’s policy that purported to restrict social media activities, providing that “unless you are specifically authorized to do so, you may not ... participate in these activities with Dish Network resources and/or on company time.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that this policy was unlawfully overbroad by infringing on the right of employees to engage in protected concerted activity.

Likewise, in a case against Karl Knauz Motors, NLRB found that while a car dealership did not violate the NLRA when it terminated a salesman for posting comments on Facebook about an accident involving a customer whose child drove a car into a pond (since the posting did not involve a discussion of employment matters), the dealership’s “courtesy policy” was at odds with the NLRA. That policy provided that “Courtesy is the responsibility of every employee. Everyone is expected to be courteous, polite, and friendly to our customers, vendors and suppliers, as well as to their fellow employees. No one should be disrespectful or use profanity or other language which injures the image or reputation of the dealership.” The board deemed the policy unlawful due to the fact that: (a) it didn’t inform employees that critical statements about working conditions are protected by law; and (b) employees could construe the making of lawful critical statements about their employer as disrespectful and/or injurious to the “image or reputation of the dealership.”


IN-DEPTH WITH DAUS – It’s about time that the arrogance and Wild West approach of Uber is facing the appropriate criticism. This turn of events in the media started with the Washington Post’s report that Uber had an employee allegedly share what’s called “God View,” which allowed the company to track users. This followed a flurry of reports that Uber is misusing and possibly exploiting private passenger data, and that Uber Senior VP Emil Michael pledged $1 million to dig up dirt on a journalist; the next day, a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine wrote how her sources at Uber warned her that execs could be spying on her via Uber usage. The editor was cautious to say that she did not know whether her information was accessed or whether her sources were overzealous, but the general sense is that viewing users’ private data is fairly easy at Uber, and that “the company stokes paranoia in its employees about talking to the press.”

Uber viewing private data

Some say this is just consumer data collection, while others feel that it is nothing short of spying. If TNCs are engaging in the collection, use, and monitoring of data that is not pursuant to a legitimate business or regulatory purpose, with personal details and customer information so readily available that an intern or possibly a hacker could acquire them, there is a potential privacy and security issue. This raises a question: What kind of spy we are dealing with? Is our culprit a cunning, James Bond-esque operative, or are we dealing with the clumsy joker or goofy spy seen in Get Smart or Austin Powers?

There is no question that the TNCs of the world are immature, cocky, and inexperienced, doing things that are not thought-out well or just plain stupid. But there is a more nefarious aspect to this that seeks to turn the collection of data and tracking of TNC users into gold. This data value capture probably supports a large portion of the alleged multi-billion dollar valuation of companies such as Uber. Of all the issues to surface during the TNC debate so far, nothing could be quite as damning or damaging economically to the new breed of data-hungry TNCs than government regulations limiting the collection or use of such data.


You might own the largest ground transportation company in the country, be the toast of your boardroom, make a boatload of money, and maybe even see your face plastered on the cover of a respected business journal every now and then. But at the end of the day, you are only as good as the chauffeur making $15 per hour who’s driving that Fortune 500 CEO from his hotel to the airport.

chauffeur hiring and retention johnny green

It’s a fact that might be a little humbling, a little sobering, maybe even a little bit frightening. But it’s definitely a wake-up call: Unless the industry focuses on hiring and retaining the best chauffeurs we can find—particularly with Uber promising the world and more—then we as an industry are looking toward a world of hurt. Why? Uber hires drivers; you employ professional chauffeurs. Or do you?

It’s a scenario that plays out when two strangers meet:
“So, what do you do for work?”
“I’m a chauffeur.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. Do you enjoy your job?”
“It’s OK until something better comes along.”

Does it bother you that chauffeurs—who are usually the most critical touch points in satisfying your clients—often think of this as a job rather than a career? It should. The perception of a “chauffeur” being a way station until “something better comes along” is a notion that has persisted in our industry for years. Its genesis lies in the misperception that anyone with a driver’s license and working knowledge of how to operate a GPS and open a car door is qualified to shuttle around Hollywood stars, CEOs, and bridezillas. We see it most when the economy tanks and people are out of work. That newly unemployed person, through self-preservation, turns to using the one skill he has possessed since he was 16 years old: the ability to drive a car. And when the economy flips back, it’s often sayonara to a good portion of your staff. Why did we allow this to happen?