Things are certainly going well for Ford right now, but there's still work to be done. Specifically, there's the matter of Lincoln, which CEO Alan Mulally says will be experiencing its own renaissance shortly.
"We're going to make a real family of luxury vehicles at Lincoln like we have at Ford," Mulally told Automotive News Publisher Peter Brown in a video interview. "[Consumers] know we absolutely know how to make a luxury vehicle."
If the consumers know, the dealers aren't so sure. Ford recently asked its Lincoln dealers to spend a healthy chunk of change on showroom upgrades and while Mulally cites a "very positive" reaction, many dealers reportedly said they were reluctant to spend the money in a weak economy without seeing some new product to justify it. While Lincoln's lineup has improved recently, common consensus is that it's still an old man's brand and not up to par with the luxury competition.
But that's the current lineup; what about upcoming product? That's where everyone's unsure. There have been promises of seven new or redesigned vehicles over the next four years, but no one's sure what they are. Ford has made noise about a compact Lincoln, something on the new Focus' platform, but not everyone's convinced that small cars are the right way for the brand to go. A new MKZ is likely in a few years when the Fusion and Mondeo combine, and we've heard rumblings of an additional midsize sedan. There was also a rumor of a new flagship sedan flying the Continental banner, but Ford PR quickly quashed the rumors, at least of the Continental name.
Whatever is on the way, there's an overriding concern that it'll be more of the same: Fords with split-wing grilles and nicer leather. Brown pressed Mulally on the subject, asking how the company planned to make legitimate luxury cars on Ford platforms. Mulally responded that the new Lincolns will be "completely differentiated vehicles" with better fit and finish, powertrains, electronics and "feel." "You're going to feel the difference of the new Lincoln lineup," he said.
When asked how he hoped people would look at Lincolns in five years, Mulally said that they'd likely be proud that Lincoln offered all the same options and features as the luxury standards. More importantly, they'd be proud that they could get world-matching luxury from Ford Motor Company. Disturbingly, Mulally seemed to focus on how Lincoln would be as good as the rest of the luxury market, not better. Setting the bar low isn't likely to excite dealers or customers.
Still, to the skeptics, Mulally says you need only look at how far the Ford brand has come in the past five years. Suggesting that Lincoln will follow a similar path to success, Mulally says "everyone's real excited" about the future of the brand. They'll start by working to "improve the experience the customers have," assuming they can get the dealers on-board, with perks like complimentary maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles, Lincoln loaner cars during service, better roadside assistance, a dedicated Lincoln sales team and a free wash and detail at every service. Or, as it's better known, what much of the luxury competition already has. With the product plan so vague, though, it's no surprise the dealers are hesitant. That is, those that are staying in business, dealers that Mulally characterizes as "excited" about "getting right-sized," also known as surviving the 200-dealer cull intended to reduce overlap and increase profitability in select markets. If Cadillac sticks to its' plan, Lincoln will need every bit of excitement it can get.
While we can appreciate Mulally's aspirations for Lincoln, we still aren't any closer to understanding what Ford actually has planned for the brand. What do you think is really going on at Lincoln? Are Mulally and Co. being intentionally vague to keep us coming back, or because they don't really have a plan yet? Predict Lincoln's future in the comments below.