Does Lincoln Need A Flagship?

Does Lincoln need a flagship?

“That’s a clever question,” replied Scott Tobin, a man who could have a hand in making such a proposition become reality.

Tobin, Lincoln’s product development director, wasn’t about to tip his hand on a snowy night last month in downtown Detroit. Speaking after a preview of the 2015 Lincoln Navigator, he was happy to give that vehicle a ranking. “Of my SUV lineup, this is the flagship.”

Naturally. The Navigator is huge. It now has a powerful EcoBoost V-6 option (370 hp, 430-lb-ft), and it still has an imposing presence. It’s the roadgoing equivalent of the U.S.S. Missouri. “I don’t think it can go understated how important the Navigator is,” Lincoln group marketing manager Andrew Frick said.

But what about a real flagship? Car enthusiasts traditionally define it as a powerful, rear-wheel-drive sedan with imposing styling and a decadent interior. It should translate the brand’s highest aspirations into a driving machine. The Mercedes-Benz S-class, BMW 7-series, Lexus LS and the all-wheel-drive Audi A8 are obvious examples, and Cadillac’s worst kept secret is that it’s working on a RWD flagship of its own.

Frankly, Lincoln probably doesn’t need one right now.

Lincoln’s situation isn’t as dire as some believe. Sales were basically flat last year, dipping 1 percent to 81,694 units. The division is treading water, which isn’t a good thing considering the overall U.S. market rebounded significantly in 2013, but it has critical mass from which to build. Lincoln has promised four new vehicles (not including the Navigator) by 2016. The first was the 2013 MKZ, which will be followed by the 2015 Lincoln MKC this summer. A mid-size sedan and a compact crossover aren’t the sexiest products in the market, but they play in segments that offer opportunities for significant sales growth.

It would be a massive undertaking. There are no obvious platforms in Ford’s global portfolio with which to build it. It would have to be markedly better, and perhaps cheaper, than any of its competitors, because otherwise would be no reason for consumers to switch loyalties. It could take two product cycles just to gain traction against the established entries.

As an enthusiast, I would like to see a Lincoln flagship sedan, but it needs a strong business case. I’m not sure there is one. Something like an all-wheel-drive BMW 5-series fighter is more realistic. I’d also vote for a luxurious coupe (which wouldn’t necessarily require rear-wheel drive) ahead of a flagship sedan. Lincoln needs people talking about it -- in a good way -- and either of those two options would be a smart launching point.

David Patton
Lincoln stopped building Lincolns in 1998 with the passage that year's Town Car and Mark 8.  The later Town Cars may have been decent cars but they looked like warmed over Crown Vics.  Lincoln doesn't just need a flag ship, they need to rethink the entire brand.  I owned a '63 Continental convertible and a 92 Mark 7 LSC SE.  Both exuded quality and exceptionalism.  Now they sell rebodied Fords with meaningless "Mk" designations.  It is sad to say that the closest American car to a real Lincoln is a Chrysler 300.  Overseas, something from Bentley.  Wake up or die, Lincoln.
IDY CAR GUY
I think the picture in the beginning of this article demonstrates what made Lincoln.  If you look at that beautiful car, it was entirely a Lincoln, not a rebadged anything.  It was unique and stylish and there was nothing else even similar.  By today's standards it's still a beautiful car.  If they want to resurrect Lincoln, they need to go to the drawing board and make a real Lincoln.  And yes, it is time to bring back the Mark coupes and a real Continental with some style and Please, no Navigators with a different rear door and grille get real, it's a lousy attempt at a rebadge when it looks just like a Navigator.  Why even waste your time or ours for that matter.  I agree with the comments about Cadillac.  I think Lincoln should follow their example, except make cars with better quality and they will blow Cadillac out of the water and try to make some classic styled cars that will look beautiful 60 years from now like that beautiful blue coupe in the picture above. 
Rade Radosevich
Yes, Lincoln needs a flagship and it cannot be branded with alphabet soup.  Lincoln needs a new Continental; not the mass-produced FOP car of old, but one that is pure luxury en par with with the upper end Mercedes, Maybach or Jaguar.  Continental, at one time, meant "You have arrived" (and it isn't a hearse).  The Navigator is nice, but I look at it and see the Ford Expedition with extra chrome.  The Continental of old was the bloated cousin to the Ford LTD Crown Victoria; the new Continental needs to be separate and unique, not a guzzied up Ford Fusion.   
Ted C
I'll take a beautifully styled, RWD Mark IX coupe please. 
LetsRace
It needs better products and at least a RWD model. They can make their own AWD system a la Quattro and work it from there. They just need to stop making Fords in suits, they need to let Lincoln have their own tech and features. The problem with Lincoln is that you can find everything they have in your Ford dealer at a better price.
johncarync
In less than 20 years, Cadillac has redefined itself from "rebadged Chevy" to "legitimate German alternative" with its edgy Art & Science design language. And it did it without a flagship. Lincoln needs the same design freedom and support from Ford. Lincolns still come across as rebadged Fords. Five years ago, I thought Ford should stop making both Mercurys and Lincolns. Then they could make Volvo their mid-level car and Jaguar/Land Rover their top tier (with Aston Martin as a halo). But then the car market plunged and they sold them off.
Quince Dunham
even a ford gt variant would be cool    awd ecoboost4   they may hear this but chances are they still aren't listening    if they were theyd  use some of that cash to try to hire me   not goin't' happen   I gots a town car rite now i'd love to remix with their assistance   no access   even worse does anyone even know who is the person callin the shots at Lincoln    don't everybody reply at once
Quince Dunham
the new mustang is the architecture that ford should be building on   ecoboost4 awd    4door coupe/lwb sedan   big wheels   even Hyundai gets it
Quince Dunham
Detroit is just backwards   too conservative  biased against "urban(ghetto)' trends   look how long it took for ford to implement big wheels   shaq started the trend back when he was just starting to get pro money   everyone else jumped on   even Europe recognized looks and performance advantages   Germany builds big cars from small cars   Lincoln already had one in the last town car coming off architecture it initially shared with mustang   wouldn't go awd  wouldn't put wheels on it   wouldn't build a coupe again   awd/rwd 22s 4door coupes ecoboost   these people need a transfusion   get some fresh blood 
bwerick
Flagships define the upper limit of per vehicle profit.  Toyota makes much more per LS460 than it does per Camry.  Trucks provide this for American car companies to some extent, with high margins on trucks like the Escalade that are twice as much as the Silverado they are based on.  It's not just that Lincoln sales are low and flat, it's that there is no Ford Buick or Ford GMC in-between, and that every Lincoln is so obviously a gussied up Ford.  Ford cannot charge much for these Lincolns if it wants to sell any.  The ads they run with the old Continentals makes the point painfully clear - none of the 2014 models will be remembered.
FoundV
@automobilemag @GregMigliore @LincolnMotorCo I think a sports car would be interesting.
Ted C
@LetsRace Have you actually been out to drive and look at any of Lincoln's products or do you just like to regurgitate the tired old talking points that they need better products and they are nothing but expensive Fords?  They have good products and they are far more than just Fords.  
LetsRace
@Quince Dunham WTF?

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