Why Keep Lincoln on Life Support?
Imagine my surprise last month when I traveled to the LA Auto Show and saw a giant sign next to the massive Ford booth advertising the nearly invisible Lincoln brand. That’s right, folks, Lincoln is somehow still alive and kicking, although I cannot for the life of me figure out why Ford lets this limping division soldier on instead of biting the bullet and shuttering the brand. It is easy for Ford Motor Company to let Lincoln languish with rebadged Fords with an uglier grille and more leather, but this tactic will not work forever; there are too many superior offerings from other manufacturers in the global marketplace, and unlike the case with Buick in China, Lincoln does not have a built-in fan base eagerly awaiting each new release. Here are some things Ford must take into consideration if Lincoln is to remain afloat.
1. The “Lincoln” name doesn’t mean anything anymore. Once upon a time, Cadillac and Lincoln were the premier marques of General Motors and FoMoCo, respectively. Both were synonymous with unequaled luxury and comfort and fought only each other in the sales charts. It was before Mercedes and BMW seriously threatened the Americans on their home turf, but it didn’t last long. Caddy and Lincoln appealed to the older members of the family who would never give a second thought to purchasing a high priced German automobile, especially in the decades immediately following WWII.
In the 1980’s, though, Mercedes and BMW became the de facto choices for the rapidly growing class of so-called “young urban professionals,” who, by their choice of automobile, distanced themselves from their parents and changed the perception of what a luxury car should be. The Lincolns and Cadillacs of the era were boats on wheels, gigantic things with large, underpowered V8s combined with blocky designs that aesthetically appealed to nobody. The ’90s through the early 2000s were similarly a difficult time for both brands as they each respectively struggled with deciding on a future vision for the company.
Cadillac’s choice to appeal to a younger crowd was manifested with the release of the CTS and later editions of the Escalade. The CTS was a proper midsize, RWD sedan with the option to upgrade to a Corvette-powered, manual-only V8 variant called the CTS-V. The Escalade was a modified GMC Yukon with a leather covered interior and chrome everything, and was really the first big, “look at me!” SUV.
Lincoln did not fare so well. The LS sedan debuted before the CTS and initially saw healthy sales numbers, but a lack of continuous improvement over its eight year lifespan led to its demise in 2006. The Navigator was to be to the Ford Expedition what the Escalade was to the Yukon, and for a while it did quite well against the giant Caddy. Since 2006, however, the Escalade, with all its marketing dollars and street cred handily beat the Navigator. And who could forget the Mark LT, Lincoln’s gussied-up F-150? Any time I see one on the road I cringe and pity the poor sucker trapped behind the driver’s seat, for he fools nobody but himself.
Nowadays, no Lincoln is unique; they are all badge-engineered copies of Ford products, albeit with a grille apparently inspired by a baleen whale’s smile and some manatee-colored leather rather than cloth on the inside. To me, Lincoln only means “expensive Ford.” General Motors went balls-out relaunching Cadillac and making it into something a normal person would buy, using its “Art and Science” theme as a guidepost for GM designers. Lincoln has no unifying theme other than a familial front end that does nothing for the brand as a whole.
Hey, look! It’s a Lincoln MK…something…
“Figure out what you want to say to consumers” is so incredibly basic but Lincoln fails at it spectacularly.
2. Rename everything. Ignoring the Navigator, every Lincoln is an MK-something. MKX, MKT, MKZ, MKS. Nobody knows what the hell these cars are. Look at BMW. Any “Series” car is a coupe or sedan, any M-car is high performance, a “Z’ is a roadster, and anything with an “X” in front of it is an SUV. The same is true with Audi. These are simple distinctions that will allow any moderately-informed person to instantly conjure at least a basic idea of which car you’re talking about.
3. Fix the grille. I’m pretty sure every Lincoln buyer grabs the car in gray, so do them a favor and make it harder for critics to compare it to a big, fat sea mammal.
4. Move the MKS to the old DEW platform and make it RWD. As with the Cadillac XTS mentioned in another article, nobody will pay $40,000 for a FWD vehicle. If Ford is serious about making a flagship, take the most expensive sedan Lincoln offers and slap it on a RWD/AWD platform. American auto manufacturers inexplicably use FWD platforms even as the car’s prices rise, and it alienates everyone on Earth not driving these autos in slow-speed urban environments. Keep that stuff for the volume SUVs, nobody expects them to carve corners like a Lotus anyway.
5. A few years after revising the current lineup, make a big, luxurious RWD sedan with a turbo V-6, hybrid V-6, and V-8, and price it next to the Hyundai Equus. The Equus is a bit of a slow seller despite being a lot of bang for the buck. It is a major step for Hyundai to produce and market a $60,000 car and convince people to buy one so soon after moving upmarket from its economy car roots. If they can improve it in the decade ahead, however, it will bring buyers back and create new ones. Lincoln must do the same thing, or it will not offer a product to showcase its innovation and talent.
So there you have it: a few suggestions to Lincoln to improve its product mix and survive and adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace where those who wait are left behind. Ford can fix Lincoln and bring it into the 21st century or milk it a while longer while the brand suffers a slow and painful death. In Ford decides to continue with Lincoln, it is critical to understand that most young car fans and professionals think very little of Lincoln as a company, so the first step is to challenge the apathy of potential consumers. To do that, all they have to do is create an interesting car.