August 12th, 2003
Lincoln languishes as PAG plunders
A company of three mindsets - soon to have just three, disparate products
Now effectively down to three products, Lincoln has yet to
form a cohesive strategy between them. With just $650 million to spend,
and now out of the PAG preferred circle, the brand is likely to have a
was founded in
1917 by Harry Leland, whose intention was to build aircraft engines for
the First World War. It was not until 1920 that the first Lincoln, the ‘L’
series, was introduced and not till 1922 that the company was acquired by
The failure of
(above, here at the 2002 New
York Auto Show)
demonstrates - if the
(top) had not already -
that mimicking the Lincoln Navigator is not enough
Navigator, according to Michigan Lincoln dealer Jack Demmer, is "selling like popcorn." Indeed, it is iconic (if
somewhat gaudy) in its own right. A full sixty percent of Navigator
customers are new to Lincoln. But for how long will it continue to sell,
and why must a truck guide Lincoln's strategy and design?
revised with more horsepower and better interior materials, sells well
enough but neither makes enough of a statement for the Lincoln brand nor
enjoys the type of brand support it should. Pictured is the '04 LSE, a
cosmetically altered model which, while a welcome sign of life, adds
less substance than Lincoln enthusiasts might have hoped for. Clearly, a
wider range of Lincoln enthusiast cars is needed. For this, we simply
need to turn to Lincoln's own concepts
A little mystique, a little pride,
1996 Lincoln Sentinel Concept show-stopper was a good example of
Lincoln's inherent ability to right itself. The modern interpretation of
the '40s Continental grille ensured that the car could only be a Lincoln,
while the close proximity between the front fender and the wheelwell gave
it as much aggression as the upwardly sloping rear lent it a certain
elegance - much as with the
2003 Cadillac Sixteen
happened to this design?
Class-leading Lincoln design, the
remains a masterpiece that, according to the company itself, "established
a signature look for Lincoln that was totally unique (with) its sheer body
surfaces, unique center-opening doors and chrome accented upper shoulder
Is it any wonder, then, that
we are so fond of the
2002 Lincoln Continental
Concept? The car used
aluminum and composite body-on-frame construction with composite outer
skin, and was finished in 'silver sea spray'
Continental Concept's horizontal
emphasis continued at the rear of the car, and a Lincoln star badge
divided the large LED lamps. While there was relatively little critical
acclaim for this design, we love it. The next
LS, perhaps? But, please, rebadge
- a name which could only be affixed to a Lincoln
2001 Mk 9 Concept
was not one of our favorites, it was low, wide, and had enough presence
to be worthy of consideration. Expect its details to feature on future
1936 Lincoln Zephyr
is considered by many to be the first successful streamlined car
Lincoln's 1977 Versailles
signaled the start of its problems. Based on the
Versailles' greater refinement could not disguise the staid
driving dynamics at a time when Mercedes and BMW were pushing the
envelope. Lincoln's future with car platforms outside of PAG concerns us; it is critical to Lincoln's past and
future - inextricable from each other - that its design department be
permitted to grace viable componentry
a while, people have been talking about what the future of Lincoln might
be. We need to concentrate on the present. It's irresponsible not to put
all your effort into improving your performance today."
Lincoln Division (speaking to Automotive News)
"It's a lot easier to go to (Ford CEO) Bill
Ford and ask for a couple billion dollars for future products if you're
anonymous Lincoln insider (speaking to
”Cadillac has the bit in its mouth and it's charging... Lincoln can turn
it around, too, but it won't be easy."
consultant, AutoPacific (speaking to Automotive News)
"People don't just say, I drive a Lincoln... they say, 'I drive a Navigator
or an LS' because Lincoln doesn't really stand for anything. It's really
hard to sell against a Lexus or a Mercedes, which offer so much status."
Trout & Partners (speaking to Automotive News)
Lincoln has experienced its second
failure of the millennium. The Aviator,
with an inspired interior but a somewhat prohibitive price tag ($39,000 through
$54,000), will cease production with the 2004 model after just one model
year-and-a-half on the market – and will join the Blackwood
as a Lincoln that, quite simply, did not go according to plan.
Lexus RX330, BMW X5,
likely had something to do with it -
which brings us
to our topic this week: Lincoln's impending plunge as a brand as it continues to
take its identity for granted.
Lincoln's greatest strength this past year was
in its SUVs and its fleet vehicles. The
has enjoyed a privileged position since its
launch, and - as if to underscore the use of their cars as luxury hire
transportation - Lincoln Canada recently publicly congratulated a
owner for having driven one million fleet and private kilometers.
It might seem that the last time a Lincoln was considered quite
so fashionable, Vietnam and not Iraq
was the talking point
of the day.
A Lincoln - and not 'Lincoln' as a
brand - is the key to this statement, though.
If you are a fan of one of the
Lincoln's three separate mindsets, you are part of a cult following of one
and only one of Lincoln's three (effectively, once the
Aviator dies) cars:
Navigator, Town Car, and
between the three? Vague, at best.
News last year quoted Lincoln
President Darryl Hazel has suggesting that until Lincoln improved its
performance, there was
"no point waxing about what the brand could become."
To ignore the
at Lincoln - which lost almost $1 billion in 2001 - is to
close one’s eyes to the turnaround going on across town. After years in the
wilderness, arch-rival Cadillac is positioning itself as a company whose cars are worthy of
cross-shopping against the omnipresent Germans and the ever-eager Japanese.
Rumors abound, however, that
Cadillac’s rejuvenation will cost seven times the budget that Lincoln has been afforded.
For $4.7 billion, the General is gunning for the BMW 3 series,
– and, if predictions about the SRX's
and upcoming STS'
abilities are to be believed, for the BMW X5
and 5 series.
In the meantime, Ford has
Lincoln’s PAG (Premier Auto Group: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo) membership, apparently so as not to step on
Jaguar’s territory, and has reduced its available cash to a paltry $650 million.
As we understand it, former
PAG Head Wolfgang Reitzle (now departed) had estimated that it would take $2
billion and ten years to turn Lincoln into a 'global brand.' Lincoln coupes,
crossovers, and convertibles were planned from a new platform which the money
would afford. When the budget was
reduced, Reitzle removed Lincoln from PAG because there were no synergies.
Former Lincoln president
Brian Kelley likely left because, under these terms, making Lincoln competitive
would be nigh-on impossible.
Focused on the
present, one might counter with the notion that the
Lincoln LS is a great car.
We have not forgotten it (although it might be argued, as we will, that Lincoln
the LS is an excellent car.
Now revamped with more power, better finished, and better-built, only the lack
of a stick-shift (quietly removed from the V6 and never offered with the V8 as
was once promised) gives us pause for thought. It is fitting, though, that the
majority we have seen are painted in dark colors; not only does this emphasize
the dashes of chrome (without which it might well be confused for a
Mitsubishi Diamante), but it seems apt considering that
the car seems doomed to remain a dark horse in Lincoln’s stable.
was good enough to receive Motor Trend’s 2000 ‘Car of the Year’ award and
to donate its platform for use in Jaguar’s S-Type.
Yet Jaguar’s development continues – attracting relatively mixed attention even
as Lincoln's entire budget was reportedly spent on just the X-Type's
all-wheel-drive transfer case – while Lincoln languishes. A pity, since the work
done to create the 400hp S-Type R
could no doubt help give the LS
range some pep. Without re-iterating last week’s rants about the X-Type,
we do want to remind Ford that the question of overlap would never have been a
problem if Jaguar had been allowed to concentrate on the cars it should have
been building all along.
More to the
point, Lincoln has been in a sales race with Cadillac for as long as Jaguar has
not been primarily measured by its commercial success. In other words, Lincoln
has a better chance of concentrating on sales figures than Jaguar, while the
British retain their more exclusive image and chase profitability.
hands tied behind its back,
Lincoln is a company of three mindsets. With the Navigator, Lincoln is riding an
with the Town Car, it ensures sales (if not quite positioning), and with the LS,
it attempts to prove that a Lincoln,
too, can Lambada.
Lincoln’s success with the Navigator not prove that
Americans still appreciate large cars? Is the Lincoln badge not well-endowed
enough to deliver them?
Automotive News has reported
that Lincoln will
field a new convertible and a rear-wheel-drive vehicle that is a cross between a
sedan and sport-utility, both likely as 2006 models.
Why is Lincoln
worth this investment? Lincoln as a brand remains a formidable name, with
historical upscale implications of mystique, innovation, power, and refinement. The 1936
Zephyr is considered by many to be the first successful streamlined car, and the
1961 Continental remains unforgettable. In addition, the '55 Lincoln Futura
Concept-based Batmobile from 1966 retained enough Lincoln cues to have planted a
potent seed in the minds of many current potential Lincoln buyers. It is up to
Lincoln to exploit it.
Just a few years ago, Lincoln was
America's best-selling luxury brand. In J.D. Power's 2001 Vehicle Dependability Study, Lincoln
placed fourth. The 2002 J.D. Power APEAL study, which
"owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new
vehicles," placed the Lincoln Town Car
at the top of the Midsize Luxury class, ahead of the
BMW 5 series
and Lexus GS300/ 430.
Of all the Ford brands, only Volvo beat Lincoln in that year's J.D. Power
Customer Service Index Study.
may not recently have had bright spots equivalent to Cadillac’s Northstar engine, it has
not been without talent, either. The 1996 Lincoln Continental
featured the industry's first telematics system (RESCU), integrating location-based GPS
satellite technology with hands-free cellular telecommunications and 24-hour
call center response to offer an emergency and a convenience service.
Finally, it is interesting to note that PAG has not shown a profit in several years and has a
worldwide volume roughly equal to Lincoln/ Mercury combined.
we agree Lincoln is worth saving, what
needs to be done? A uniting strategy amongst Lincoln's products is critical.
Evidently, the company realizes it has a problem; as Automotive News has
noted, the American Luxury slogan disappeared recently because
Lincoln's disjointed range belied its uniting implication.
The Blackwood and
Aviator have shown that SUVs can only take Lincoln so far.
Flying in the face of this
logic, Lincoln/ Mercury dealerships are left with just two products that are not
body-on-frame (the Sable
and the LS). Leaving
aside its trucks, it is hard to imagine that Lincoln can compete using car
platforms external to PAG.
Taurus-based Continental stood no more chance against serious competition than
did the early '90s Camry-based Lexus ES300 (a horribly expedient car) or
the Maxima-based Infiniti
I30. Further back in Lincoln's history, the
started Lincoln's troubles in the late '70s as it struggled for credibility
against the Cadillac Seville – let alone the
concurrent Stuttgart and Munich 200- and 5
While the Japanese, with little history to speak
of, seem able to reinvent themselves until their product is perfected, Lincoln
has become almost burdened by its heritage.
Celebrate it, Lincoln,
for it cannot be created on a whim no matter what the marketing budget.
itself notes that its iconic '61 Continental
a signature look for Lincoln that was totally unique (with) its sheer body
surfaces, unique center-opening doors and chrome accented upper shoulder line."
Pacific and Northwest
Region of the Lincoln and Continental Owners Club adds that "the
new Lincoln Continental
was a clean, elegant design which influenced the look of many of the cars of the
60's including the '63 Pontiac Grand Prix,
'63 Buick Riviera and
It is true that the LS has been selling
at a 40,000 unit per year rate for the last two years, on par with BMW's 5
series but well off the 80,000+ pace of Cadillac's more expensive DeVille. It
does well enough, but – without the backing and brand reinforcement that a more cohesive
corporate Lincoln might provide
- seems ignored by buyers (consider that a base model LS is just over $31,000).
While Cadillac rebounds with
product after product, and foreign rivals stretch to fill every imaginable
niche, Lincoln is left with four lines (soon to be three), and Mercury, just
four. Overlap between the two brands is killing creativity as the Grand
and Town Car
pick up fleet buyers and the Mountaineer
chase sales that may well decline. We think it is time to bring out two of the
concepts that have best captured what a Lincoln is.
1996 Lincoln Sentinel and
2002 Lincoln Continental Concepts
are the two recent Lincoln designs we would most like to see on the road. The
latter was developed by Gerry
McGovern, appointed Lincoln/ Mercury Design Director in August 1999. McGovern's
portfolio includes the current
Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Land Rover Freelander, and the
Lincoln's inherent understanding of its visual heritage and strengths: in
particular, a certain aggressive-yet-restrained elegance, wrapped up in ominous
detailing and a powerful sense of presence. Imagine the
Continental as an LS
replacement, and the Sentinel
as a profitable luxury car beyond the reach of the rental
Town Car. The Continental's design is perfectly adaptable
to a wagon format.
With a little
work, the Mk 9 Concept
could be the next Mark IX
coupe - and could spawn convertible.
Lincoln is now PAG's step-child, where would the mechanical underpinnings come
from? We hear rumbling out of Ford that the Mazda6
platform could spawn a new Lincoln wagon. If this is the way things must go, we
wonder how far the structure could be stretched. Furthermore, how much life is
left in the current Lincoln LS'
chassis? We are tempted to believe it could be refined, then perhaps stretched
to incorporate the Sentinel.
just as with Jaguar, we would argue that Lincoln does not need a car quite as
small as the X-Type.
Leave that to Mercury,
and let's see some of the inspiration of the
2003 Messenger Concept. Lincoln's
contribution to the class should be closer in size to the current Lincoln
LS than the BMW 3 series; the
Infiniti G35 has shown it is possible to compete
with the 3 series without borrowing its
2002-inspired compact packaging.
is a gentle reminder
to Lincoln that the
reason to relocate its headquarters from Detroit
to Irvine, California in 1998 was to take advantage of California design trends.
After all, this was Volvo’s rationale, and the result has been some wonderful
production and concept work directed by Peter Horbury.
cash-strapped Ford can find the platforms for Lincoln's design renaissance
remains a question.
not, it is time for Ford to financially back Lincoln's inherent talent and