A limousine (or limo) is a luxury vehicle sedan or saloon car, especially one with a lengthened wheelbase or driven by a chauffeur. The chassis of a limousine may have been extended by the manufacturer or by an independent coachbuilder. These are referred to as "stretch" limousines and are traditionally black or white in color. Limousines are often driven by chauffeurs and until the mid-1990s were and still are most often associated with the very rich. They are also used for special occasions such as weddings, parties and sight-seeing tours.
While some limousines are owned by individuals, many are owned by governments to transport senior politicians, by large companies to transport executives, or by broadcasters to transport guests. Most stretch limousines, however, operate as livery vehicles, providing upmarket competition to taxicabs. Most builders of stretch limousines are located in the United States and Europe and cater mainly to limousine companies. Few stretch limousines are sold new to private individuals. In addition to luxuries, security features such as armoring and bulletproof glass are available.
The first automobile limousine, built in 1902, was designed so the driver sat outside under a covered compartment.<ref>The Origins of the Limousine</ref> The word limousine is derived from the name of the French region Limousin, because this covered compartment physically resembled the cloak hood worn by the shepherds there. An alternate etymology has the chauffeur wearing a Limousin-style cloak in the open driver's compartment, for protection from the weather.<ref name="RamHousDef">"The Random House College Dictionary" p. 777 Random House, Inc., 1975 ISBN 0-394-43600-8</ref><ref>A history of limousines/</ref><ref name="Limousine History">Limousine History</ref>
The first “stretch limousine” was created in Fort Smith, Arkansas around 1928 by a coach company named Armbruster. These cars were primarily used to transport famous “big band” leaders, such as Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and their bands and equipment. These early stretch limousines were often called “big band buses”.<ref name="Limousine History"/>
The limousine body style has a divider separating the driver from the rear passenger compartment.<ref name="RamHousDef"/> This partition usually contains a sliding (often soundproof) glass window so that conversations between passengers in the rear compartment may be kept private from the chauffeur. Communication with the driver is possible either by opening the window in the partition or by using an intercom system.
Traditionally, the limousine has been an extension of a large car. A longer frame and wheelbase allow the rear passenger compartment to contain the usual forward facing passenger seat but with a substantial amount of foot room — more than is actually needed. Usually then two "jump seats" are mounted, facing rearward behind the driver. These seats fold up when not in use. In this way, up to five persons can be carried in the aft compartment in comfort, and up to two additional persons carried in the driver's compartment, for a total capacity of seven passengers in addition to the driver. This type of seat configuration has however become less popular in recent limousines, although this design without the two front passenger seats is still characteristic of London's famous Black Cabs.
Newer limousines such as the Maybach 62, Rolls Royce Phantom, Audi A8L, Volkswagen Phaeton, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Jaguar XJ, BMW 760Li, Lincoln Town Car Edition, and the Cadillac DTS do not feature jump seats since stretch limousines are usually used to transport more than three passengers, excluding the driver. In production American limousines however, the jump seats almost always faced forward. The last production limousine, by Cadillac, with forward facing jump seats was in 1987 (with their Fleetwood Series 75 car), the last Packard in 1954, and the last Lincoln in 1939, though Lincoln has offered limousines through their dealers as special order vehicles at times. Several Lincoln Premier cars were also built, one being owned by Elvis Presley. Vehicles of this type in private use may contain expensive audio players, televisions, video players, and bars, often with refrigerators.
It is simpler to determine the effects of altering a separate chassis than it is to determine the effects of altering a load-bearing unit body. For this reason, the automobile of choice for conversion into stretch limousines is the Lincoln Town Car, whose Panther platform is one of the last remaining automotive platforms using a separate load-bearing chassis. Coach builders have built models based on SUVs with a separate load-bearing chassis, including Hummer H2s and H3s.
Other than that, a Rover 75 limousine was involved in a car crash in Argentina recently. It was driven by Susan Barrantes, the mother of the Duchess of York.
Another type of vehicle modified for multiple passenger use is the motorized stage, applied to the same tasks as the earlier stagecoach. It is not considered a true limousine but rather in its design and application is between a sedan and a bus. While a bus will have a central interior aisle for access to seating, a stage has multiple doors that allow access to transverse forward facing seats. Examples of the type were constructed not only from sedans (e.g., Chrysler New Yorker, Cadillac DeVille), but also from station wagons; many of the station wagon conversions sported a large rack, running the length of the roof, for carrying the passengers' baggage.
This type of vehicle was once rather common in some locations. An example of its use was in the transport of travelers arriving by railroad at Merced, California to travel to Yosemite National Park in the first half of the 20th century and at other remote parks. In Yosemite, passengers would then stay in rustic platform tent camps or more expensive lodges and hike or rent bicycles for movement around the park. In Glacier National Park, the stages were referred to as "Jammers" in reference to the nickname of their gear-jamming drivers.
A modern version of the stage is seen in some novelty stretch Hummer or Hummer H2 vehicles. Some funeral homes maintain six-door stages to carry the family of the deceased between the church and the cemetery. These are usually not used for private hire.
Sometimes a coach builder or car designer will develop the "ultimate" stretch limo, adding amenities that are somewhat impractical but which make a significant design statement. One such design includes tandem rear axles to support the weight of an operational hot tub.
These extensive limousine conversions have been performed on several luxury marques and fast cars, including: Bentley, BMW, Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, Holden, Hummer, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen. In the United States the most popular vehicles for stretch limousines conversion are the Lincoln Town Car, Cadillac DTS, Cadillac Escalade, Chrysler 300C, Hummer H2, Ford Excursion, and the Lincoln Navigator. There are even instances of Corvettes, Ferraris, Mini Coopers and VW Beetles being stretched to accommodate up to 10 passengers.
Sometimes an "inappropriate" vehicle is converted, simply for the novelty. Hummer vehicles have been converted. Another novelty conversion is the East German Trabant which was designed for a low manufacturing cost and incorporated body panels made from a rag fiber and plastic resin material. Volkswagen Beetles, Fiat Pandas and Citroën 2CV vehicles are occasionally stretched into limousines.
Limousine Industry effect of Economic Downturn 2008-Present
The limousine and chauffeur industry has been one of the hardest hit industries in the global economic downturn. Many of the smaller limousine operations have struggled to survive with the collapse of many corporate giants. As larger corporations aim to reduce cost they have significantly cut back on travel. This has led to many small operators closing, with larger limousine companies scooping them up. Furthermore, high licensing fees continue to be a burden to the industry.
In the USA and Canada, limousines can be any type of car operated by a "Limousine service" or "car service". Such companies offer cars with drivers, often for shared rides on popular routes, such as airport limousines. Limousines usually have to be booked in advance and can't be hired on the spot as taxi cabs can.