After graduating from the University of Southern California
with a B.A. in psychology and an M.B.A., Howard Becker went
on to teach entrepreneurship and pioneer a high-end mobile electronics
business near Beverly Hills – from which his present-day company
was eventually launched.
Based in Oxnard, California, Becker Automotive Design, Inc.
(www.beckerauto design.com) specializes in converting vans manufactured
by Mercedes Benz and top-of-theline American SUVs (including
the GMC Denali XL and Cadillac ESV) into stealth, original length,
non-stretch, executive limousines by providing European luxury
sedan-level interiors equipped with an array of extraordinary
personal comforts and top-of-the-line electronics. Past and
present customers include heads of state, leading business executives,
renowned celebrities, prominent families, diplomats, and royalty.
When you consider brand awareness for Becker Automotive Design
in the market – the understanding of what the product stands
for and what the brand means – are you happy with that awareness?
How are you planning to build brand recognition?
It’s going in the right direction. With various articles, a
feature in BusinessWeek this year, another in Business 2.0,
and Robb Report editorials, we are continuing to receive excellent
media coverage in the appropriate types of publications. We’ve
also had good exposure on TV shows, including BusinessWeek TV
and Closing Bell, among others. We believe that because our
brand presents itself in an attractive light to media that caters
to our customer’s profile, we will continue to generate increased
and favorable brand awareness in this manner. Word of mouth
also continues to be a very strong asset.
What differentiates Becker Automotive Design in the marketplace?
Can you highlight what makes the product unique?
We deliver vehicle conversions engineered with exceptional interior
luxury and comfort, and combine these with an extraordinary
degree of occupant productivity capability. A tasteful but low-key
exterior presence is also a vital component of our designs.
In short, our customers wish to travel at their level of lifestyle,
optimize their time aboard, and remain “under the radar” – all
simultaneously. Most of our vehicles are chauffeur driven.
What do you mean by “occupant productivity”?
We deliver productivity applications in several dimensions.
First, for many of our customers, being able to conduct work
in privacy while being chauffeur driven is a value beyond description.
Today, highspeed wireless mobile Internet system capacities
allow us to offer complete mobile office functionality. This
consists of a dedicated onboard PC, controlled with a compact
wireless keyboard with integrated touchpad. A networked multifunction
printer with fax, copy, and scanning ability is shared through
an onboard mobile WiFi network that is accessible to anyone
inside the vehicle. Additionally, one or more EVDO [evolution
data optimized] cellular routers operating in tandem are tied
together with enterprise-grade load-balancing equipment, enabling
you and your colleagues to stay connected to the Web and even
video conference right from the comfort of the vehicle. All
this is displayed on flat-panel LCD monitors up to 32 inches
A second productive element now functioning wonderfully is mobile
satellite TV, allowing visual monitoring of local and international
news broadcasts, stock market reporting, and the occasional
ball game, all while on the move. Third, most of our vehicles
come equipped with custom, first-class, aviation-style seating,
which reclines and incorporates electric leg-rest extensions,
allowing exceptional stretch-out comfort. Lower the black-out
aviation-style electric window blinds and the benefits of a
20- minute power nap for our “time-sensitive customer on-the-go”
adds considerable value to this productivity equation. Some
of our customers also choose to add refrigerators and highquality,
discreet toilets. Finally, as we are a custom coach builder,
we provide personalized interior designs and ambiance, which
includes special aviation-type LED lighting, superior materials,
leathers, and color schemes that are all designed to lift the
emotions of these important travelers.
What is the most popular base vehicle you convert? What are
the price ranges?
The Sprinter vans manufactured by Mercedes-Benz in Germany have
become our customers’ overwhelming favorites. The Sprinter is
also emissions and safety compliant in most countries in the
world. Offering stand-up room for a six footer, an electric
sliding side door that allows ease of entry and exit, an open
and roomy interior that can accommodate several adults in equal
comfort and privacy, this vehicle contains some major and unchallenged
attributes in ground transportation. And to make everyone feel
right at home, we have designed and engineered our interiors
after the interiors of top-of-the-line private jets, with Gulfstream
being our favorite model. We are all after the same goal: creating
an environment for comfort, luxury, and productivity. In fact,
we have named these conversions The Becker JetVanTM Luxury Coach,
because of their similarity with private aircraft. Typically,
these completed vehicles run between $175,000 and $275,000.
What percentage of your vehicles are exported outside the
An ever-growing number of our vehicles make their way abroad,
at present over 25 percent annually. We have had satisfied customers
in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico, Canada, Central
Asia, Russia, China, and Japan – and, of course, in all points
throughout the United States.
Could you please explain the draw of a “low-key exterior”?
This element cannot be underestimated as a motivating factor
in the purchase motives of many of our customers. The last thing
they wish to do is to be seen pulling up in a flashy or ostentatious
vehicle. Our customers’ security advisers often prefer, and
recommend, this low-key approach for their clients as well.
So, although our customers can certainly afford what they wish,
and many do have the Ferrari or Bentley in the garage at home
for weekend events and fun, they are grateful for the stealth
exterior presence afforded by one of our vehicles during much
of their workday and public presence. Our customers’ vehicles
still need to have a handsome and appropriate appearance; just
not an “in your face” characteristic. In the interior of these
vehicles, however, we can deliver an ambiance characteristic
of their world.
You’re dealing with customization and meeting people’s needs.
From a production standpoint, has that process been able to
be sped up? How challenging is it to keep up with production?
Well, that’s our challenge. We hit a demand nerve that is pushing
us at the moment. We have 40 employees with about 35,000 square
feet under roof and we’re flat out growing. I turned 58 years
old this year and have spent more than 30 years developing a
learning curve in the luxury vehicle customizing market. I have
a core group of employees who have been with me for more than
20 years and a bunch more that have exceeded 10 years of employment
here. We have very little employee turnover, which essentially
means that we have a solid foundation based on a skilled and
experienced pool of labor.
We also have a lot invested in R&D. Mercedes-Benz is introducing
a new generation of upgraded Sprinter vans for 2007. The old
model lasted more than 10 years, so we are looking forward to
a long and successful run as we tool up for the new model. We
are basically incorporating everything we have learned over
the years in working with European luxury cars, high-end mobile
electronics, security, and ride comfort into these wonderful
new platforms. Adding to this formula is the undeniable advantage
of having direct input from our customers, who lend their ideas,
visions, IT staff, interior designers, and incredible personal
experience from the very best the world has to offer. The combination
of their ideas and the discipline of meeting their expectations
has honed us a tremendous competitive advantage. We plan to
capitalize on these circumstances, for everyone’s benefit.
What about future growth?
We have been approached by, and are currently developing a good
relationship with, DaimlerChrysler Corporation. We will also
be looking to attract investment, and potentially partnering,
as we continue to grow and develop our niche market, which we
believe has lots of healthy growth potential.