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 coach builder. 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 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. 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.
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”.
By Jon LeSage
As I was attending the International LCT Show last month, I asked several operators about their fleet status. At one point, it dawned on me that several companies with the word “limousine” in the corporate names have very few stretch limousines left in their fleets. They have a lot of sedans, SUVs, vans, and buses, but not too many stretches – which is opposite the way things used to be in the industry. Stretch limos were the essence of the fleet until Town Car sedans increased substantially in the 1990s and other fleet trends built up speed.
So where does the word “limousine” come from, and what does it mean to this industry? The National Limousine Association uses this word only in its name to describe the business, and many of its members focus much less on stretch limousines in their fleets. But the word still means something important for this industry.
According to the Random House College Dictionary (and Wikipedia), “the word limousine is derived from the name of the French region Limousin and is associated with the long cloaks once worn by the shepherds there.” The idea of limousines being elegant and high class goes back to the word’s origin.
1 : a large luxurious often chauffeur-driven sedan that usually has a glass partition separating the driver's seat from the passenger compartment
2 : a large vehicle for transporting passengers to and from an airport
The first definition does focus on stretch sedans, which is made clear by the glass partition reference. The second definition focuses on airport runs, which has become about half the transaction volume in this industry and has very little to do with stretch limos these days.
A lot of companies in this industry have dropped the word limousine from their corporate names. These days, it’s common to see the words “chauffeur,” “worldwide,” and “transportation” in company names. In the 1990s, the magazine changed its name from Limousine & Chauffeur to Limousine & Chauffeured Transportation to better symbolize the evolving industry. Many companies still use the word limousine in their names and logos, and it probably won’t be going away. And the NLA hasn’t announced plans to change its identity. Hearing the word limousine draws up images of a luxurious, comfortable trip where you don’t have to worry about driving, directions, or traffic – you get to sit back and enjoy the ride.