Chicago 2014: The Next Steps In The Reinvention Of Lincoln

Lincoln Navigator consumer marketing manager Carey White is under no delusions that his brand has a perception problem with the very people it needs to lure into dealerships.

"With the younger generation, Lincoln doesn't have much of an identity. Nobody hates us, but we're also not a vehicle that's going to… appeal to every teenager in the world," he says at the Chicago auto show. "For us, the challenge is taking it step by step, segment by segment."

Fortunately, the addition of new models like the Lincoln MKZ has helped change that. Compared to the previous MKZ -- and the Lincoln Zephyr before that -- White says the new sedan has brought in younger, wealthier customers, who also are spending more on the car than before.

"All very good indicators for a brand in the middle of its revitalization," he says. "It's a process that takes time."

Interestingly, White claims that Lincoln isn't simply bringing in customers who, say, can now afford a car that's slightly nicer than a Ford. Instead, he says that many Lincoln MKZ customers came from owning Audis and BMWs. As for the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, a surprising number of shoppers are trading in their Toyota Prius. Those customers -- many of whom already own a luxury car in addition to a Prius -- are interested in the MKZ Hybrid because they feel, "I can get the feeling of being greenly responsible with luxury, and I don't have to drive a box," explains Lincoln representative Sam Locricchio.

The next step in the company's revitalization is the launch of the Lincoln MKC. Although the idea of a small luxury crossover isn't new, and White even admits that the MKC is following the success of Acura and BMW crossovers, Lincoln doesn't feel like it's late to the party.

"Right now is a great time for us to be there," White says. "That segment has shown very strong growth over the past three to five years, and it's continuing to grow."

Although Lincoln is focusing on selling cars on the east and west coasts, the brand also says it will never abandon the "heartland" in the Midwest. In part, that's because customers in the Midwest have an attachment to the heritage of the Lincoln brand, thanks to its decades-long history of making luxury cars.

"To truly be a luxury brand, having heritage as your base gives you that cachet of cool," Locricchio says. "Fortunately, we can check that box."

Going forward, on the other hand, Lincoln will focus just as much on the ownership and buying experience as the cars itself. White says that dealership strategies, like the Lincoln Concierge and "Date Night" programs will continue to ramp up as a way to draw in new customers -- and keep existing ones.

"The end goal is to keep them loyal," explains White. "It's a much warmer process than some of our competitors."

He sees this kind of "experiential" program as "absolutely huge" for turning around Lincoln's brand perception and drawing customers out of other luxury cars.

"Most of them [luxury-car shoppers] have the money to buy anything that they want in terms of driving, but they choose brands for certain reasons," White says. "Some of them are more about, 'I want to feel the experience, I want to experience the experience,' and I think Lincoln's much more on the side of the experiential piece."

As for the future of Lincoln, White is less forthcoming. Although the company has publicly said that it will launch four new models -- the MKZ and MKC are the first two -- White won't be drawn on what else is in the pipeline.

"The next 12 to 13 months for us are absolutely huge," he says. "We're always evaluating all segments and looking at trends."

"Hopefully we can meet again next year, same time, same place, and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about," White says, hinting we should look for a major debut at the 2015 Chicago auto show.

Mr White is deluded. Lincoln is not in a renaisance - it is lingering somewhere between irrelevance and closure. Every car they claim is a Lincoln is in reality a re-badged Ford - just like Mercury always was. Ford closed Lincoln - not Mercury, and the product is the proof. A new front and rear fascia ain't going to cut it against the stunning new Escalade.
The game has escalated, and Lincoln has not kept up.  
The Fusion, thanks to Aston Martin, is an exceptionally handsome car.  But the Lincoln is not.  The baleen whale grill is an embarrassment.  The whole genre of Amercian luxury cars has lost its way.  Cadillacs are primitive design exercises, not at all beautiful, with a confused brand message, too. Hiphop country club, what?
It's time that the category is reinvented.  A Tesla is so much more advanced and handsome than a Lincoln, drivetrain aside, that it shames Detroit.  
Ford has proven they can do it.  The Fusion is a more impressive car than a Camry.  GM has proven they can do it, the new Impala is a better car than anything in its category.  
What they need to do now is man up and decide to get serious about the luxury category.  We need an American car that is more handsome, more capable, more advanced than it's facing competition from Germany. Cadillac has shown it can be done in terms of chassis design.  Now they both need to step up and fix the rest of the equation.  To do this it will take a leap, not these lame incremental steps. 

As a 4-time Mercedes owner under 40 years old, Lincoln invited me to participate in their Date Night program.  Nice idea.  The MKZ is not a bad car.  It's not a great car either.  The engine is raspy, and the facade is hideous.  The sides, rear, and roof are pretty good.
My biggest beef with Lincoln is their dealership experience.  I suspect I'm not alone in my dislike of the concept of buying a $50k car in a sleazy old Ford dealership with ripped vinyl seats and styrofoam coffee cups, from a greasy salesperson in a cheap suit with poor grammar and questionable hygiene.  So, yes Lincoln, I want a better experience.  At least GM is wise enough to put Cadillac's in their own buildings (usually).  Cadillac "gets" my generation.  Lincoln has a very long way to go.
NE Guy
The Navigator is a mess inside and out, but the MKC is absolutely stunning. Also, I was in a an MKZ recfently and I fell in love... I have to say that they look so much better in person than in pictures that I was amazed.
If the front end of that Navigator is any indication, Lincoln won't see me in their showroom anytime soon.  What an ugly garish grille.  It reminds me of the "gold tooth" Cadillac SUV, that really presented itself with the look of a gold tooth in the middle of your mouth.  Chic, not. 
Some of these sales lines are so obnoxious. "I want to feel the experience".  Hell, no.  Just give information about the car.  The MKZ Hybrid is a really nice ride with lots of tech.  
@BDinDallas  This is spot on and is something that *so few* web commenters (with their "you can get [XYZ cheap car] which is even faster than [XYZ expensive car]!" diatribes) can grok...  When you're spending $50k+ on a vehicle part of what you are buying is the overall experience, from initial purchase to service (and no, in this segment you're not taking the brand new $60k car to a backyard mechanic to save $100) as well as build and materials quality.
Lincoln is saying the right things here, but they aren't demonstrating it.  The clear Ford DNA (worst kind of parts sharing), the lousy dealerships, the fairly garish styling... They have a very long way to go.  Even Cadillac, which is just orders of magnitude better, has only recently started to reap the benefits of repairing their broken image and business model.  
Personally I think Ford should either go scorched earth with this brand, or just shut Lincoln down and put bigger investments into the primary Ford line (which is actually quite excellent)

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