Sunday, January 20, 2019

BY SUSAN ROSE

cd-0314-bmw-cover-article Cover Art: BMW Limousine and Hotel Shuttle Key ­Account Manager Marco Schneider with (L to R) a 7 Series Sedan, 3 Series GT, and 5 Series Sedan.
Photography by Chris Weiss.
BMW actively started pursuing the chauffeured ground transportation industry in March 2012, when it officially debuted its Limousine and Hotel Shuttle Program dedicated to this industry. Admittedly, the German luxury automaker was a little later to the party than some others, but with a product line no less worthy or interesting for application in the chauffeured ground transportation space.

As with any new program, it has only gotten better over time with smarter livery incentives, increased vehicle offerings, black on black exteriors/interiors, and an available extended warranty—a must for our industry—that is more matched to our mileage demands than the standard consumer warranty.

About six months ago, BMW wisely appointed an ambassador to our industry when it hired Marco Schneider as its first-ever key account manager for its Limousine and Hotel Shuttle Program. Schneider now has a few industry events under his belt, and he’s talked to hundreds of operators who are attracted to the BMW lineup for their higher-end luxury vehicle offerings.

Last month, BMW (see the lineup at bmwusa.com) upped its game when it debuted a list of new vehicles sanctioned for its Limousine and Hotel Shuttle Program. BMW initially offered the 5 Series Gran Turismo (GT) and 740Li vehicles to operators—the latter of which is still one of its best-selling vehicles to the industry—but saw that it could fulfill more than one tier of luxury. Both of the vehicles were well received, says Schneider.

The complete lineup features aggressive livery incentives to not only compete with other luxury manufacturers, but also mid-priced sedans as well. For example, any vehicle in the BMW 5 Series can go head to head with any of the moderately priced workhorse sedans that the industry is currently running. In order to qualify for livery incentives, operators must enroll in the Limousine and Hotel Shuttle Program and be based in the U.S. (Contact Schneider at Marco.R.Schneider@bmwna.com for more information.)

“People are always surprised to hear how affordable BMW can be,” he says. “They automatically think that our vehicles are out of their budget. With livery incentives, the price of the BMW 528i, for example, is around $42,500, which is competitive with other industry sedans. I talk to a lot of operators and they always say in the end it’s about costs and comfort for the client, and vehicles like the BMW 528i have that. With fuel economy of up to 34 mpg highway, it can help operators significantly lower their costs of operation with a price that is surprisingly affordable.”

Last year, BMW debuted its extended warranty of 3 years/150,000 miles at the 2013 Chauffeur Driven Show, which brought it in line with its competition. “We realized that we had to offer a different warranty to this industry because operators can easily exceed 50,000 miles in just a year,” he says. “They were asking us, ‘What do we do now?’ when their standard warranties would expire. This was a big step to show our commitment to the industry.”

cd-0314-bmw-las-vegas-dealership-article BMW of Las Vegas dealership
Additionally, all BMW models come standard with a 4-year/50,000-mile maintenance package, which reduces the costs of owning the vehicle for at least the first 50,000 miles and includes everything from oil changes to wiper blades. The maintenance package can also be extended to 6 years/100,000 miles for an additional cost.

Maintenance—even routine—can mean downtime and lost revenue, so BMW has actively encouraged its dealers to be aware of its livery customers’ needs. Scheduling maintenance and having extended hours during evenings and weekends can greatly increase the speed of service so that operators can get back on the road quickly. Service is available at any of its dealers nationwide.

As part of Germany’s Big Three auto brands, BMW is somewhat of a mystery to American customers, says Schneider. Time and time again he runs into the same problem: educating operators on the vehicle lineups.

“Essentially everything in the BMW 5 Series is a version of the same car—the 528i, 535i, 550i. They look the same, drive the same, and have the same warranties. The basic differences among them is the engine, horsepower, and standard options,” he says. “With a vehicle like the BMW 528i, which has a 4-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower, fuel efficiency is maximized without compromising on style, amenities, or luxury,” he says. “Passengers in the back may not feel the difference between a 528i or 550i, but the price difference is nearly $15,000.”

The exception is the ActiveHybrid, for those who crave a greener vehicle, and Gran Turismo 3 and 5 Series, which feature a sportier look in comparison to the other vehicles in its series. If you’ve seen it in person, you know that it has the dual-opening trunk, which allows it to function either as a hatchback or a somewhat traditional trunk so that passengers are not exposed to the elements (BMW 5 Series GT only). The GT Series maintains its BMW classic styling with a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to a more youthful market.

At the other end of the spectrum is the 7 Series, which is meant to compete with the popular Mercedes-Benz S-Class, says Schneider. Known for its spacious interior and stately exterior, the 740Li and 740Li xDrive are the standout vehicles of this series—Li referring to its long wheelbase while xDrive is BMW’s denotation of its all-wheel drive drivetrain. Easily the longest BMW in the livery lineup, the 7 Series has everything a customer could want: standard leather interior, rearview camera, navigation system, deep, wide trunk, and optional rear heated seats. It also features the best leg room of any of the vehicles in the BMW livery lineup.

“With livery incentives, our BMW 7 Series vehicles can be $20,000 to $25,000 less than our closest luxury livery competitors. It’s the ultimate luxury for a more attractive price point,” he says. With the current $7,000 livery incentive, a 740 Li is priced under $65,000 (excluding additional dealer fees and any extended warranties). There are also additional incentives for fleet customers who purchase multiple vehicles at a time, starting at a minimum of just five. BMW has used its two-year learning curve to its advantage. Schneider says that during that time, the company listened to industry and fulfilled its wish list, starting with its extended warranty. “We have the product, price, extended warranty, service, and some of the best-looking vehicles around. There’s no reason not to give BMW a second look.” [CD03.14]