The Feud Lives On: Cadillac and Lincoln
Lincoln and Cadillac have been at each other's throats for almost 100 years.
The Hatfields and McCoys have nothing on these car-making combatants, which were—incredibly—fathered by the same man: automotive pioneer Henry M. Leland.
There are few longer-running rivalries in any arena. Every chrome-plated haymaker was met with a whitewalled counterpunch, all in a bid to gain an ever-greater share of the American luxury-car market they dominated.
At least, that was the case during the Motor City's golden age. The past five decades have exacted their toll on two of America's most storied brands.
But at this year's New York auto show, it suddenly seemed like 1959 again.
Cadillac with its CT6 and Lincoln with its Continental concept were the toast of Broadway—or at least the talk of the auto journalist rabble hoofing it around the Javits Center during the show's media days.
Both are full-size sedans, a long-familiar battleground for the brands. And though both cars promise luxury, they're going about it in decidedly different ways. Quiet and elegant vs. athletic and prestige-seeking. Game on, again.
"For us, quiet luxury is around elegance, it's around effortless power, and it's around a serenity, a calmness, and a relaxing nature," Ford CEO Mark Fields said at the reveal of the Continental Concept, a car he stressed was very close to a production-ready vehicle. "A full-size luxury sedan usually connotes the epitome of the brand, and for where we are in the journey right now with Lincoln, this represents the flagship."
I had a chance to luxuriate in the back of the Lincoln Continental concept, and although features such as the champagne chiller and pop-up tablet holder are fluff we're unlikely to see in a production car, I picked up on the quiet luxury vibe that Fields and Lincoln president Kumar Galhotra were laying down. The seats were plush and posh, and you can adjust them 30 ways to Sunday. No, really, the Continental features patented 30-way seats. You want your left leg more elevated than your right? Yeah, it can do that. The cabin is thick with top-shelf materials, and the vehicle is equipped with a multitude of high-tech options and safety nannies, many of which are already deployed on today's Lincolns. "Technology not for the sake of technology, but technology to help our customers every day," Galhotra said of the car's feature set.
Outside, the Lincoln Continental concept looks stately and refined, with a gleaming new chrome grille. It looks more than a little like … a Bentley. Bentley's chief designer Luc Donckerwolke thought so, and he lit up Lincoln design director David Woodhouse on Facebook, letting him know Bentley tooling was available if Lincoln wanted it. Cold-blooded. Who owns the Continental name again?
There has been lots of kvetching over the chassis the Lincoln Continental production car will be built from—likely a version of the same front-wheel-drive platform that underpins the Taurus and MKS (it'll probably be stretched and may come standard with all-wheel drive). And there's only one engine so far: a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 that will be exclusive to Lincoln. But Galhotra made it clearer than the crystal champagne glasses in the back seat that the Continental is not aiming to rip around canyons.
"We understand that there is a luxury segment out there that is looking for really aggressive machines," Galhotra said, "but we also hear from a very large number of luxury customers who are looking for something very different. They're looking for elegant, beautiful, quiet luxury experiences."
That's no doubt just fine with Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen, who rolled out his vision of what the 2016 Cadillac CT6 sedan represents for the brand. Even better, he got to do it in New York, Cadillac's new home base.
"The CT6 strikes a true luxury proportion, but it's so much more. It's also unmistakably a Cadillac, which means it's a driver's car. The CT6 will be the lightest and most agile car in the class of top-level large luxury sedans."
Unlike Lincoln, which has been searching for an identity, Cadillac has been forging its path for more than a decade now through its Art & Science design theme and its rampaging, rear-drive V-Series cars. The CT6 completes a trio of vehicles that now appears poised to take on the BMW 3, 5, and 7 Series and others, with base models, sporty variants, and mean, monster V versions of the ATS, CTS, and (maybe) CT6.
Of course, you can't talk about either brand without mentioning the C-word: China. Fields made no bones about Lincoln's Chinese aspirations, and Cadillac has clambered aboard the Beijing bandwagon as well. What type of newly defined American luxury will the Chinese prefer? The answer to that question will go a long way toward determining which brand will thrive. For now, we're just happy to see them at each other's throats again.