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What to Expect from the New Lincoln

Lincoln’s global brand chief reveals the luxury brand’s new target audience and how it will reach them.

December 5, 2012

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This week, Lincoln reintroduced itself with a new (old) name — the Lincoln Motor Co. — and with it comes a brand reinvention. Lincoln was known as the Lincoln Motor Co. until 1922, when it was sold to Ford, so bringing back the name signifies a return to an exclusive identity and with it the association to luxury that Lincoln once represented.

The 2013 MKZ retains Lincoln’s signature split-wing grille. This redesigned model, out next month, represents the new face of the brand.
The 2013 MKZ retains Lincoln’s signature split-wing grille. This redesigned model, out next month, represents the new face of the brand.

“Lincoln was once a great brand and we will be again,” said Matt VanDyke, director, global Lincoln marketing, who sat down with journalists this week to share some thoughts on the direction of the new Lincoln. We met at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, which caters to the “progressive luxury customers” to whom the new Lincoln aspires.

Internally it’s a new day at Lincoln, VanDyke said. Jim Farley, who runs all of Ford’s global marketing, now has direct operational responsibility of the brand. Lincoln is no longer encumbered by other luxury brands that have left the Ford fold, such as Aston Martin and Jaguar. To that point, some 200 Ford employees “get up and do nothing but work on Lincoln,” Van Dyke said.

Meanwhile a new design studio was built in Detroit. Four all-new models will come in the next four years; call that an overhaul for a brand that currently only has five models. As well, the brand will enter China in 2014.

Lincoln wants to go young(er) and hipper. It is looking for 35- to 55-year olds who might be driving Lexus, Audi, Volvo or Infiniti now, or “the Subaru owner who has the money but prefers the Subaru, and will try Lincoln because the new MKZ is stunning,” VanDyke said. Lincoln buyers should be making six figures — it’s not for people looking for luxury but who can only spend $279 a month on a car payment. Lincoln doesn’t want to be labeled as soft luxury, but then it’s not going to “out BMW a BMW” as a performance brand, he said.

To get closer to this coveted demographic, Lincoln launched a social media campaign this week with Jimmy Fallon, in which the talk show host will “crowdsource” content for a commercial using Twitter. Look for a Super Bowl ad too.

Lincoln is also instituting an intriguing dealer program called Lincoln Date Night, in partnership with Zagat restaurant guide. Along with a free overnight test drive, consumers get a voucher for $100 at a selection of local restaurants.

Though dealerships are getting makeovers, VanDyke contended that Lincoln doesn’t need the fanciest showroom. Don’t expect espresso machines and free Wi-Fi, instead expect to be treated “like clients of a local tailor,” VanDyke said. Lincoln has 300 dealers, and about half of them are dual-branded.

In an effort to protect residuals, Lincoln is aiming to keep 80% of the Lincolns coming off lease within the dealer network for its Certified Pre-Owned program. Today, that percentage is less than half. Lincoln will reward dealers for hitting CPO targets. The brand also gets its own captive finance company, Lincoln Automotive Financial Services.

The word “fleet” is historically tied to the brand, from the Lincoln Continental, in which President Kennedy infamously met his demise, to the ubiquitous Town Car. Van Dyke said fleet should stay less than 10% of sales and “will be studied very carefully.” The MKT, a crossover, has essentially replaced the Town Car in the livery market, though fleet sales will be nowhere near the Town Car’s.

Lincoln models will be FWD or AWD with differentiated powertrains, though Ford’s 2.0L EcoBoost will be the base engine for all models and will have the highest volume of any powertrain. There are no plans for an AMG- or R-type performance division. The full-size luxury Lincoln Navigator won’t be going away immediately, but VanDyke wouldn’t elaborate.

VanDyke was pressed on the fact that manufacturers, Ford included, still have a hard time distinguishing luxury models from the mass-market models built on the same platforms. VanDyke pointed out that the new MKZ and Ford Fusion have entirely different drive dynamics, braking and suspension, and that 95% of all visible materials on MKZ are exclusive to the new luxury model.

VanDyke admits that the MKS has been called “a warmed over Taurus,” and would most likely target the traditional Lincoln loyalists (read: over 60 crowd). However, it’s the redesigned 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan, out next month, that is “the new face of the brand” aimed at the new demographic. “That is the model that must conquest,” VanDyke said.

What shall we make of the transformation of Lincoln? The consumer will decide.

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Chris Brown

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Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.


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