Rear-Wheel-Drive Proportions, China Production-Only for Lincoln's New Big Sedan?
Motor City Blogman
Lincoln will not import its current MKS to China, which may seem like an odd omission for a market that thrives on big sedans. Executives admit the Lincoln MKS is too small on the inside for its extra-large exterior (ever see one parked next to a Chrysler 300?). The brand launches in China with the MKZ sedan and MKC compact crossover this year and the MKX crossover and Navigator SUV in 2015.
The premium/luxury brand's new "large sedan" premiers in China and in the U.S. in the 2016 calendar year, probably as a 2017 model. Lincoln executives keep calling it the "new large sedan," which makes me think it might be renamed from MKS to something like MKL. Better yet, Lincoln could revive a real name, like "Cosmopolitan" or "Premier." It may want to save "Continental" for something grander; perhaps a sport sedan based off the new Ford Mustang platform, though no such car has been approved for production.
Not that the MKS replacement won't qualify as "grand." There have been hints that the large sedan, which will sport a version of the CD4 platform that underpins the MKZ, the Ford Fusion/Mondeo, and the new MKX previewed by a concept (pictured) at the Beijing auto show, will nonetheless flaunt rear-wheel-drive dash-to-axle proportions. It's not clear whether this means the car will get a longitudinal engine in place of the transverse mounting, as with the Audi A4 and A6.
Volvo has shown large front-wheel-drive concept cars with RWD proportions with the recent Coupe (Frankfurt 2013), XC Coupe (Detroit 2014) and Estate (Geneva 2014), though without any explanation of how it would achieve those proportions in production versions of the cars. While such proportions do nothing for space efficiency, the "footprint" element of the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards make the additional wheelbase length easy to justify. "Footprint" is wheelbase times front and rear track. The larger the footprint, the easier it is for a car to achieve its CAFE goals. As an executive for a competing company told me at the Geneva show, that CAFE footprint provision has been leading to some very creative design configuration proposals.
But a RWD dash-to-axle ratio on a large FWD sedan isn't so much "creative" as it is handsome. It's the kind of proportion that can make a large car look more elegant, even to those who don't know what they're looking at, so designers love to work with it. The easiest way to determine dash-to-axle is to look at the width of the sheetmetal between the rear of the front wheel wells and the front door cut of the front doors.
Using a north-south engine layout on a FWD-based car (with an all-wheel-drive option) is potentially costly, though far cheaper than switching to a dedicated RWD platform. This raises the question, too, of whether the Ford Taurus, on which the current Lincoln MKS is based, would come along for the ride. Exclusive use of the RWD dash-to-axle could provide Lincoln much-needed differentiation from the Taurus, as well as from its own midsize MKZ.
Then there's the question of where the Lincoln MKS replacement will be assembled. Rumors in Detroit have Taurus/MKS production moving to China. I find this unlikely, especially since many U.S. law enforcement departments would not be able to buy the Taurus-based Police Interceptor if it was assembled outside of the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.
Moving all production of the new Lincoln large sedan to China makes more sense, especially if it gets exclusive use of the RWD proportions. Lincoln's plan for China anticipates sales for the brand there equaling sales in the U.S. in a few short years (it sold 81,694 here last year), and one source said the division is "considering all possibilities" for Chinese production. Ships full of MKZs, MKCs, MKXes, and Navigators sailing from North America to China could return with the MKS replacement, the source says.
To make this plan work, Lincoln will have to assemble the MKZ in China, for the Chinese market, or else its midsize sedan will cost more to build than its full-size flagship. Before the Ford Motor Company can add much more production of its cars in China, the Chinese government will require it to establish or buy a "local" brand, like General Motors' Wuling, Jiefang, and Baojun. Once that happens, the Chinese market will become as important to Lincoln as it has been to GM's Buick.