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.