Ford Motor Company is promoting its luxuriously equipped, fuel-sipping Mercury Mariner Hybrid as an eco-friendly alternative to stretch limos at a time when the Ford is the first automaker to introduce a hybrid livery package, which demonstrates the company’s commitment and innovation to the limo/livery industry, said Doug Walczak, Ford North American Fleet limousine and livery manager.

There has been demand for a hybrid livery vehicle for some time," said Walczak. "More and more livery clients are asking operators for environmentally friendly options. In turn, the operators are coming to us for a solution."

Ford is offering the Mariner Hybrid with a luxury package as an alternative to its Lincoln Town Car, which is the premier choice of luxury sedans in the limo/livery industry and accounts for more than 80 percent of the market share. Walczak said that the small SUV is getting serious consideration.

Ford unveils first hybrid livery package
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"The Mariner Hybrid addresses a market need," said Walczak. "Compared to the other hybrids, the Mariner Hybrid is roomier and has more cargo capacity than the Toyota Prius and is much less expensive than Lexus hybrids."

The Environmental Protection Agency rates Mariner Hybrid at 34 mpg in city driving and 30 on the highway. By comparison, the fuel economy of larger livery vehicles is often less than half or even a third of the Mariner.

The Mariner Hybrid turned a lot of heads at the recent Limo and Limousine & Chauffeured Transportation (LCT) Eastern Conference and New England Livery Association trade show and convention in Connecticut. In fact, Mark Shpilner, owner of Limousine 18 in Boston recently took delivery of his first Mariner Hybrid from the Lincoln-Mercury dealership in nearby Acton, Mass.

"I sold a 2003 Chevy Suburban and decided to try a Mariner," Shpilner said. "We’re going to put it out there (as an option for our customers), and see what happens."

According to the National Limousine Association, the growing limo/livery industry has nearly 9,500 companies nationwide, operating approximately 131,600 vehicles from sedans to super-stretch SUVs and tour buses, and serving 1.38 billion passengers annually. There are an estimated additional 2,500 limo/livery operators around the world. The annual gross revenue for operators in the United States is $2.4 billion and the industry’s suppliers (i.e., vehicle modifiers) rack up $2 billion in annual sales.

The use of hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles is seen as a growing trend.

"A lot of operators are really interested in it, but a lot are still hesitant," said Camella Lobo of LCT magazine. "A lot of the larger operators that serve corporate clients are driving the trend."

Johan DeLeeuw, president of Olympus Limousines in Atlanta, said some of his corporate clients require or encourage their use environmentally responsible "green" vehicles. A number of prominent hotels, for example, promote Olympus’ use of flex-fuel vehicles and participation in a carbon offset program as part of the hotels’ earth-friendly operations.

Ford unveils first hybrid livery package
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"We also work for big companies like Coca-Cola that require us to have a ’green’ program in place. Without it, we won’t even get on their property," DeLeeuw said, adding that he doesn’t see the trend turning around down the road. "Five years from now, if a transportation company doesn’t have a ’green’ program, it will have a serious problem."

Olympus is reducing its carbon footprint as a founding member of the Limousine Environmental Action Partnership (LEAP), a consulting firm that assists limo/livery companies to become more sustainable.

"Sustainability is here to stay," said LEAP founder Patricia Charla, whose background is in corporate travel. "Being ’green’ is a competitive advantage for corporations today. Limo/livery operators that deliver on their corporate clientele’s demands for environmentally friendly transportation will win more business."

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