auto motive

Lincoln Embraces the Future; But First, a Nod to the Past

Posted by Dale Buss on November 30, 2012 03:14 PM

One sign Ford believes it's really going to turn around Lincoln this time is that it is trying to make a big splash for its new vehicle-design language and brand repositioning on America's coasts.

At the press preview at the Los Angeles Auto Show this week, Lincoln is displaying the all-new MKZ midsize sedan that will be sold beginning next year, and a hybrid version of the car, as part of a brand exhibit that also features a handful of classic Lincolns from over the decades.

The Lincoln brand has declined to more or less a rounding error in sales in California recently even though the brand's headquarters was located in Southern California for a few years.

Meanwhile, in New York on Friday, Lincoln execs were showing off the brand's new Big Apple advertising office there to a handful of journalists. Lincoln advertising has virtually disappeared from the airwaves over the last couple of years; there have been no significant new campaigns; and the brand doesn't sell all that many vehicles on the East Coast either. So what's going on?

Ford executives continue to say that they're finally taking a reinvention of the Lincoln brand seriously these days. And if they execute the marque's resuscitation as capably as they plan, they expect the "new" Lincoln and its vehicles to pick up sales and share again not only in America's Heartland, where Lincoln always has been strong, but also even on the coasts where Japanese and German luxury vehicles dominate.

For one thing, the new MKZ on display in Los Angeles not only stakes out a bold new design language and engineering excellence for the brand — being executed at its first exclusive Lincoln design center in 40 years, in Michigan — but also promises to be only the first of a handful of all-new models that Lincoln plans to introduce over the next couple of years. After a spate of redesigned vehicles a few years ago, most of which had counterparts in the Ford brand stable as well, Lincoln hasn't done much of anything fresh or new with its lineup since then.

Lincoln's marketers are taking a page from Ford's social media savvy, including posting pictures from the show on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and releasing nostalgic images from the brand's storied past in keeping with the LA Auto Show's nod to the past and future on a visually arresting new Tumblr blog.

Meanwhile, Ford CMO Jim Farley has been sketching out his approach to what needs to be the most extensive overhaul of the Lincoln brand in decades. "Our ambition is not to be No. 1 [in volume] but to be a different kind of brand," he commented. "An alternative choice for a personalized product, human and warm, not cold, not type A ... an affordable luxury sedan that [doesn't] feel like everyone else's."

Farley elaborated in the press preview at the LA Auto Show this week, per Lincoln's report:

Farley kicked-off his discussion by acknowledging a key priority to grow customer share in coastal markets. Metro areas like New York City, Miami and Los Angeles represent more than half the luxury car market and where the competition already dominates. Although Lincoln sales were competitive in the Great Lakes region, in fact even exceeding Lexus, developing a greater coastal presence is essential for long-term growth of our customer base.

Lincoln competitors’ strong presence and large vehicle fleets on the coast have fostered significant cycle of customer loyalty that consistently drives increased sales. On the contrary, Lincoln’s shortage of vehicles in these markets, the majority of which are more than 10 years old or no longer in production, has limited its ability to reach new customers and drive robust sales.

“The way for Lincoln to grow is to transform our conquest power,” said Farley. “The fact of the matter is for us to grow, we have to take share away from someone else. When you look on the coast, our competitors are gaining automatic loyalty every time a customer comes back to the dealership to return a lease.”

With the introduction of four new Lincoln vehicles — the MKT, MKS, MKX and MKZ, which is about to arrive in showrooms — there is an opportunity to increase exposure, attract new customers and establish new affinities. A lot of progress has already been made to ensure customized experiences for customers through Lincoln’s consolidated dealer network with prioritized critical markets.  The end game is Lincoln is ensuring it’s in the right place in the right way. 

Looking back, the Great Recession changed the luxury automobile industry, moving customers away from large sedans to small and medium-sized models. With new transformational products, Lincoln is primed to compete again in the small and medium-sized segments that already claim 80 percent of all luxury car sales. Further, Lincoln will have the most aggressive refresh rate of new models, representing nearly twice that of competitors. 

Farley noted that, “Lincoln is so fortunate to be rejuvenating its lineup right now. The design of a Lincoln will look individualistic, organic, warm and surprising, not at all like the German definition of beauty. What we are offering is different and offers a unique design, world-class quality and a fun yet comfortable ride. We believe that Lincoln can really innovate in these areas, where other brands are stuck with their legacy.”

Luxury customers expect personalized and exceptional dealership experiences – so offering this is imperative for growth. Lincoln is helping dealers meet these needs by introducing programs that include the Lincoln Academy, luxury hospitality trainings and augmenting them with new and exciting consumer experiences.

We are seeing a renewed commitment from dealers to reinvest and enhance services to match Lincoln’s renewed quality, offering brand perks such as complimentary car washes and service loans.  “We're asking dealers to take their profit and reinvest it in their facilities, said Farley. “Our vision is not to be a mass retailer like BMW or Lexus, but instead a small, personalized brand, like a tailor or a local spa where they know who you are.”

Perhaps surprisingly, while Lincoln's product and marketing have largely faded to the background of the U.S. auto market, the brand still retains a significant advantage over much of its luxury competition: good relationships between its dealers and their customers. In the just-released annual version of the Sales Satisfaction Index by J.D. Power & Associates, Lincoln trailed only Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac among luxury brands.

Just think how happy Lincoln customers will be when they get some new models to consider — while they drool over some old models, such as the 1953 and 1963 Lincoln Continental photos (below), updated as a social media-ready GIF on the brand's Tumblr.

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