A limousine (or limo) is a long luxury car, traditionally black in color. Limousines are often driven by chauffeurs.
While some limousines are owned by wealthy individuals, many are owned by governments to transport senior politicians, by large companies to transport executives, or by broadcasters to transport guests. Most limousines, however, operate as livery vehicles, providing upmarket competition to taxicabs.
The word limousine is derived from the name of the French region Limousine, where the inhabitants wore a hood perceived to be similar to the profile of the car.
Limousine ownership and rental
For the most part, only limousine service and rental companies own limousines. Even the wealthy who use limos as their main mode of city transportation usually do not own the limousine — they contract with a limousine service for long term availability through a lease arrangement. Those in need of a limo will usually contact a rental company to provide transportation on a very short term basis. The most common requirements are for transportation to an airport, proms and weddings.
A limousine typically has a partition between the driver compartment and the rear passenger compartment. This partition usually contains a sliding glass window so that conversations between passengers in the rear compartment may be kept private from the chauffeur.
Traditionally, the limousine has been an extension of a large sedan. 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. Newer limousines such as the Maybach 62 and Lincoln Town Car L Edition do not feature such seats since stretch limousines are usually used to transport more than three passengers, excluding the driver. Vehicles of this type in private use may contain expensive audio players, televisions, video players, and bars, often with refrigerators.
As shown in several of these illustrations, most modern limousines are extended in length far beyond that required for personal use. These are typically used to transport partygoers to and from events such as dances and weddings. These vehicles are typically based upon cars with body on frame instead of unibody construction easing the conversion into a stretch limousine. Rather than the typical transverse seating these will have benches along the length of the extension, either on one side or on both sides. This allows the travelers to face one another, unlike the traditional "stage" vehicle, which uses multiple doors to access rows of forward facing seats. In addition to the traditional black (considered appropriate for funerals, as it is a mourning color in western societies) many white limousines are now operated (considered appropriate for weddings in western societies). These cars are often seen as symbols of wealth by many.
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 typical use was in the transport of travelers arriving by railroad at Merced, California to Glacier National Park and Yosemite National Park in the first half of the 20th century. In Glacier National Park, these were referred to as "Jammers" in reference to the nickname of their gear-jamming drivers. In Yosemite, passengers would then stay in rustic platform tent camps or more expensive lodges (both of which are still available) and hike or rent bicycles for movement around the park.
A modern version of the stage is seen in some novelty stretch Hummer or Hummer H2 vehicles operated by some limousine companies. Some funeral homes maintain six-door stages to carry the family of the deceased between the church and the cemetery.
Exotic custom limousines
Sometimes a custom coach builder or custom car designer will develop the "ultimate" stretch limo, adding amenities that are in fact somewhat impractical but which make a significant design statement. One such design includes double rear axles to support the weight of an operational hot tub.
Custom coach builders can perform aftermarket extensions on luxury sedans and SUVs. These extensive limousine conversions have been performed on several luxury marques, including: Audi, Bentley, BMW, Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, Holden, Hummer, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, and Rolls-Royce. In the United States the most popular vehicles for stretch limousines conversion are the Lincoln Town Car, Cadillac DTS, Hummer H2, and the Lincoln Navigator.
Most custom coach builders are located in the United States and Europe and cater mainly to celebrities, government officials, and financial executives. Few such vehicles are available for public hire. These custom stretch limousines can cost anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition to luxuries, security features such as armoring and bulletproof glass are often available.
A Party Bus or Party Ride is a large motor vehicle designed to carry 20 or more passengers. Party buses may offer leather couch seating, surround sound stereo systems, CD/DVD player, plasma televisions, laser, disco or strobe lights, smoke machines and more. They are primarily used for, although not limited to, weddings, proms and bachelor and bachelorette parties as well as round trips to casinos, nights on the town, birthdays and city tours.