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The Executive Drive

Bently3When one think of corporate chief executive officers and their personal vehicles, it’s hard not to imagine someone like Aliko Dangote of Dangote Group or even Glo executive chairman, Mike Adenuga. In addition to two private planes, Dangote has at one time or another kept a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a Land Cruiser, a Chevrolet and all the cars one can think of garaged at his home. In 2011, Dangote bought himself a gift for his 53rd birthday, a US$45 million (N6.75 billion) Bombardier jet, Adenuga purchased a Bombardier Global Express XRS. Both Dangote and Adenuga own at least two private planes each.

Why should that not be the case, really? After all, chief executive officers like Dangote or Adenuga earn numerous times more in a year than most business men do in their entire life. They are the kind of managers who do not have to haggle over price at a Toyota, Subaru or Hyundai showroom. It would be far more likely to expect them ordering a custom-made Mercedes-Benz Maybach, Bentley or Lexus.

The term executive drive was invented in the 1960s to describe cars designed for successful professionals and middle to senior managers. It is a British term that refers to a car’s size and is used to describe an automobile larger than a large family car. In most cases, it is a company car but retaining enough performance and comfort to be desirable in their own right.

At the time, the American car company, Ford labelled some of the higher-spec Cortina models as Executives, the 1600E Mk2 becoming something of a cult car in later years for its blend of performance and comparative luxury. And so, Granada became the definitive Ford executive car of the 1970s and 1980s. Larger Triumphs such as the 2000 and 2500 firmly fitted into this category, as did some of the larger Vauxhall models from the VX4/90 and Ventora through to the Carlton.

In Britain, the executive cars of the 1960s and 1970s were the Rover P6 range, outdated by the modern SD1, and the Jaguar XJ6. At the bottom end of the market, executive cars could be luxury versions of family saloons; at the higher end they were often larger models by mainstream manufacturers or the entry-level models by companies specialising in larger luxury vehicles.

Since the 1960s till now, the executive car is seen as aspirational therefore the emphasis is on standing out from the crowd. Although it is a business tool enabling its users to exploit Nigeria’s growing motorway network yet the emphasis for executives is the uniqueness of owning such cars. Early executive cars, explains a motor dealer, presented engines of between 2.0 and 3.5 litres in size, compared with 1.6 to 2.4 litres of a large family car. These days, however, the average family saloon is more likely to be a two-litre car with executive cars generally starting at around 2.5 litres.

However, there are arguments in some quarters that most executives favour practical cars over luxury rides. It is generally believed says Tosin Ogunmodede that this argument is not peculiar to the general public who have the perception that chief executive officers drive luxury cars. Interestingly, Ogunmodede adds other chief executives have the same feeling about their counterparts.

“If you are talking about the kind of cars that CEOs drive, people generally believe Mercedes-Benz tops the list. But that is not the only choice of car for CEOs,” says Ogunmodede.

The question then is: what kind of car should an executive drive? Should the car be a luxury car? Or should an executive drive what they like?

Kathrine Ezenwa, a business development executive argues that chief executive officers should be able to drive whatever suits them. “It all depends on their personality. It also depends on the brand of car they can afford, practicality. For me it is a question of choice and not on compulsion based on status.”

For Tolu Ogini, a consultant, a CEO deserves a modest inexpensive car. “If an executive shows up at the office in a Porsche or Maserrati, the first thought that will come to my mind is the company will be paying for it. However, it depends on the kind of company the executive works for. An artsy company can get away with a flashy car but I think a consultant needs a more serious car.”

Be that as it may, the Toyota Land Cruiser 2012 popularly called Chairman seemed to be the SUV favoured by most chief executive officers. Back in its early days, Land Cruiser was a boxy, crude tool. In  terms of design, it owes a debt to the Willys Jeep. Land Cruiser tracked closely with the Land Rover Defender series of vehicles, and competed quite effectively in the same markets as the British vehicle. Over seven generations of evolution, Land Cruiser has become a much more conventional SUV.

One thing that Land Cruiser has definitely retained over the generations is a command seating position. It allows its owner to adjust the standard 8-way power seat and power tilt and telescope steering wheel so that they can see all four corners of the vehicle, an essential position for off-road. Land Cruiser is also the most luxurious of all Toyota vehicles, with high-end standard features like power leather seats, 4-zone climate control, keyless entry and pushbutton start. It has a DVD-based navigation, a center console cooler box, rear-seat entertainment and second-row heated seats, among other features. If one tags the Land Cruiser a Lexus, it will fit right in the line up.

  • Bentley Continental GT is another car used by CEOs. Driving the GT delivers all kinds of delight to its owner. When the roads open up, it simply leaps ahead with astonishing speed says Chukwuma Nnadi. “It is like a horse racing on an expansive field when the GT is on the road. Fuel economy is reported to be 12 mpg city/19 mpg on the highway.”

Its handcrafted details and an extremely high level of fit and finish endears the GT to the rich. Therefore, the price becomes secondary to desire for anyone who can afford it. The design and execution just speak as the price is right for them. The 2012 Continental GT sure has its pleasures and can serve as an inspiration for those who dream to have it.