By TOM HOWARD
Ilan Kaufmann sold the established limousine service that he operated in California’s wine country and moved to Montana in 2001.
Over the years he familiarized himself with the Billings area by working as a courtesy driver for Rimrock Cadillac.
Kaufmann then decided to launch a new chauffeur service more than a year ago.
Now, after enduring a yearlong permitting process that required him to demonstrate the need for his service, Kaufmann has rolled out Suave Sedan, which he bills as the first luxury livery service for Yellowstone, Carbon and Stillwater counties.
Kaufmann’s car is a 2015 all-wheel-drive Cadillac XTS. While it’s not technically a limousine, the car is a comfortable luxury sedan that’s well suited for discrete, dignified transportation, Kaufmann said. He accepts all major credit cards, and the car offers wi-fi service.
Kaufman said he applied for a permit with the Public Service Commission in January of 2014. During a public hearing in May of last year, a number of people testified in favor of the new license. Officials from Edwards Jet Service and the Alberta Bair Theater welcomed the service.
Although established taxi and limousine services questioned the need for the service, Kaufmann received the license late in 2014.
There’s a definite need for a chauffeur service in the Billings area, Kaufmann said. Most of the existing taxi cabs and limousines are at least 10 years old and have logged hundreds of thousands of miles.
Kaufmann said his target audience includes corporate executives who need transportation to the airport or meetings. He also expects to serve people who need rides to concerts and restaurants. But he doesn’t envision Suave Sedan as a party car that caters to the drinking crowd.
Kaufmann has completed a number of professional driving courses and also belongs to the National Limousine Association. He’s also keeping his eye on Uber. He said he expects the car-driving service that’s based on a smartphone app to soon establish itself in Montana. Last May Gov. Steve Bullock signed a bill that will allow Uber to operate in Montana.
Kaufmann remains wary. “They don’t have the vetting of drivers, such as criminal background checks,” he said. “The loser is the consumer.”