BEIJING, CHINA – Lincoln Motor Company franchisees will open eight dealerships in seven Chinese cities by this autumn, the luxury division of Ford Motor Company announced Thursday. The new independent dealer network will build standalone Lincoln showrooms, but for now the struggling premium brand has not announced plans to assemble cars in China. Lincoln plans to expand to twenty dealers by the end of calendar year 2015 and sixty dealers in fifty cities by the end of 2016.
The Lincoln showrooms will be appointed in midcentury-style high-end furniture and details, and each will have a classic Lincoln on display. “The Lincoln Way,” as described by global director Matt VanDyke, includes having dealership employees visit the customers, publishing pricing for the cars and SUVs in a forthright manner (atypical of Chinese dealers), and staffing with specialized dealership employees.
This expands on Lincoln’s original plan, which was to launch five dealerships in four cities by fall. The dealers will sell the MKC, the MKZ, and, by fall, the new Navigator, all of them shipped from North American assembly plants. China also will get its own version of Lincoln’s nascent Black Label concierge service models, to be called the Presidential Series.
Each Chinese Lincoln dealer will have a doorman, a host, a “craftsman” to help with the selection process, a service advisor, and an assistant to schedule appointments. Each customer’s car will get an RFID label on the license plate for quick identification. The dealers will offer access to loaner cars nationwide and extended service hours.
“We will launch with a huge emphasis on client experience,” VanDyke says.
While pundits like to compare Lincoln’s Chinese effort with what Buick has been doing in China since the 1990s, VanDyke sees it differently. Lincoln will compete with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, although the global director doesn’t foresee many of its cars going to chauffeur-driven owners, at least not with the limited initial lineup.
“The perception of Lincoln is on par, or better than, Lexus in China,” VanDyke says.
The bottom line is that if Lincoln is successful, China may eventually become its number-one market, as it is for Buick. VanDyke cites a better-than-expected first quarter in the U.S., where sales totaled 21,603, nearly 6000 units ahead of the first quarter of ’13. The brand’s strongest model was the MKZ, which more than doubled to 9218 units. The hybrid take rate on the MKZ is about 39 percent, far higher than the planned 20 percent, VanDyke says. The MKT was the second-bestseller, at 7101. Lincoln sold a total of 81,694 cars and sport-utilities in 2013.