Ford is slowly but surely attempting to revitalize the Lincoln brand, with the new MKZ sedan pointing the way forward for the Blue Oval's struggling luxury division. Here at the LA Auto Show, Lincoln is showing the next new product that aims to give the brand new life, the 2015 MKC crossover.
The MKC is based on the trusty Ford Escape, but this is far more than just a rebadge job. Lincoln has used completely new sheetmetal here, with the brand's familiar split-wing grille front and center, and a classy, wraparound tailgate with super slim taillamps that span the width of the hatchback. It's one of the better applications of Lincoln's new design language we've seen thus far, and the end result is a taut-looking crossover that is at the same time both modern and luxurious-looking.
Further differentiating itself from the Escape, the MKC packs an all-new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, good for 275 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. (On the base end, Ford's 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder with 240 hp and 270 lb-ft is available.) The MKC also uses a new Continuously Controlled Damping adaptive suspension, and is available with both front- and all-wheel drive.
The compact crossover segment is hugely important in the US market, and with a fresh-faced product with solid architecture, the MKC looks to be a pretty solid offering. We'll get our first taste of the new Lincoln MKC sometime next year, with cars hitting dealerships in the summer.
Continue reading 2015 Lincoln MKC aims to rejuvenate the brand... again
Complimentary scheduled maintenance programs have been great tools for luxury automakers to draw in new customers, but some are starting to scale their programs back considerably. According to Automotive News, Lincoln is joining Jaguar and Volvo on the list of automakers reducing the length of time it will be providing free maintenance to its customers.
Lincoln's four-year/50,000-mile maintenance program first kicked off as an incentive in 2010 and became permanent later that year, but starting with the 2014 model year, this will be cut to just two years and 24,000 miles. This could make short-term leases even more appealing for some consumers, but according to Automotive News, some Lincoln dealers are unhappy with the scaling back. The move admittedly comes at an odd time for Lincoln, with parent Ford seemingly working hard to increase consideration among luxury buyers as it looks to reverse the marque's long decline.
When Lincoln pulled the wraps off the MKC Concept at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year, we said that the very attractive concept was going to closely mirror the production vehicle. With few exceptions, a clad prototype recently caught running on public roads seems to substantiate our statement.
From what the pictures reveal, the disguised Lincoln MKC production mule and show concept seem to share the same waistline with identical sculpting over the wheels. The midsection of the two also appear to match with the same flare and styling. The lower rockers have been cleaned up a bit, mainly to be more practical in the real world (the deep chisels on the show car would have collected mud and snow).
Taking a look at the exposed front bumper, we see a very similar lower fascia complete wtih the metal skid plate on the chin. The window profile also seems to match the concept, though we're still unclear exactly how that C- and D-pillar section is going to look. Of course, and it always seems to be the case when concepts evolve into production vehicles, the MKC gains four normal door handles, standard-sized mirrors and a slightly smaller wheel/tire package. We expect the production version of the Lincoln MKC to debut later this year.
Automotive News reports Lincoln is looking to Chinese luxury shoppers for customer service ideas. Those notions may eventually make their way back to the US in the form of new dealership training. Jim Farley, the executive vice president of global marketing for Ford, tells Automotive News, "In many ways, China will be a listening post for Lincoln in the United States. Soon China will be the largest luxury market in the world." Farley also said that in China, the Lincoln brand is currently where Lexus was when the Japanese brand first landed in the US.
Lincoln is slated to open its first Chinese dealerships in 2014. The brand is largely unknown in Asia, and Lincoln representatives have been visiting other luxury dealers in China for an idea of what buyers there expect. Lincoln has also studied non-automotive luxury shopping, paying special attention to high-end retail branding.
Of course, this whole song and dance feels awfully familiar. Lincoln has focused heavily on remaking the brand and recrafting its marketing here in the States, thus far without sufficient product to back the play. Lincoln is already late to the China game, and without the necessary products to lure buyers away from established bodies like Buick and Cadillac, Lincoln may be doomed to repeat its fate here in the US.
With a new boss at the helm, Ford is looking at new ways to improve its vehicle launches in North America to prevent recent issues that have popped up with models like the Lincoln MKZ, Ford Escape and Ford Fusion. Speaking with Automotive News, Ford's new president of the Americas, Joe Hinrichs, revealed a few ways the automaker plans to avoid early build issues such as the engine fires on certain 2013 Escape and Fusion models and months-long delays for customers to receive their MKZs.
It sounds like the root of the problems may have been Ford's relationship with suppliers compounded by the fact that the product surge came on the heels of the recent industry-crippling recession, and in the AN article, Hinrichs says improvements are being made to reduce problems during the launch of new or redesigned models. Three such improvements that were implemented during the first quarter of this year including more rigorous quality comparisons, better use of computer technology to catch major problems sooner and hiring engineers to work closer with suppliers.
If you're a fan of Lincoln, get ready for "a really great story" come May 1. That's how Ford marketing boss Jim Farley, in a call with analysts, characterized the coming April sales report for the MKZ. At the moment, there are probably few things that the executive VP could want more than a happy ending for the ballyhooed sedan that has made people cry boo-hoo for the past six months.
The massive glass roof of the MKZ is trying to support a burden that would make Atlas tap out, and it hasn't shattered, but it has shown a few cracks. The car we called "a big step in the right direction," the embodiment of the reinvention of the brand and a test of Lincoln's commitment to a new rear-wheel drive offering was given an $8-million dollar Super Bowl ad spend earlier this year, then quality control issues during its assembly scuttled deliveries. Lincoln got over that and kept up the ad blitz, now it just wants the good work to take hold.
If Farley's not leading us on, April could be the month. He said the results (so far) show "the product is being very well-received," inventory is finally where it should be and the MKZ Hybrid is doing better than expected. It bears noting that Lincoln is offering some aggressive incentive programs at the moment, including 0.9-percent APR and $1,000 off for conquest buyers stepping out of competitors' vehicles.
Either way, the proof comes in less than a week, so stay tuned.
Those of you that caught yesterday's op-ed about Lincoln will have heard already, but Mark LaNeve has taken the helm at Team Detroit. Once the North American vice president of sales, service and marketing for General Motors, LaNeve will now head up the agency that handles all of Ford advertising. LaNeve will also run the account for Lincoln. While at GM from 2001 to 2009, the exec oversaw ad campaigns like Cadillac's Breakthrough and sales initiatives like "Employee Pricing for Everyone."
He left in 2009 to join Allstate as chief marketing officer, oversaw the creation of the Mayhem ad spots and was moved into the role of VP of agency operations overseeing Allstate's 10,000 agents. He resigned from the insurer in February 2012 for personal reasons and joined Team Detroit in August 2012 as chief operating officer, in charge of satellite offices in New York and internationally. He replaces ex-CEO Cameron McNaughton, and will continue to hold the title of COO.
Lincoln is trying to get its 2013 back to rights after putting big dollar commercials for the 2013 MKZ on television then having production glitches preventing cars from getting to dealerships. With rumors of a relaunch in the works, it's no surprise LaNeve has been given the reins - and from here it looks like the brand is desperate for the kind of magic he's proved he can marshal. Perhaps he can start by calling a mulligan on the renaming exercise that gave us the hoary "Lincoln Motor Company" and go back to oh, say, "Lincoln." Then he can ask the product folks to get to work on the MKC concept...
The trouble with Ford's Lincoln brand is that no one cares about it any more.
Not long after I heard that Mark LaNeve, chief operating officer of Ford agency Team Detroit, was moving to take over direct operations of the New York ad agency Hudson Rouge for Lincoln, I heard that JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson was ousted. The two events are connected.
There can be all sorts of reasons why LaNeve, former head of sales and marketing at General Motors, is taking over the office that was under the direction of Cameron McNaughton since it was opened last year to serve Lincoln. But the bottom line reason: The plan to save Lincoln is not working.
As I was listening to the discussion about JCPenney's Johnson and his mistakes, I heard two talking heads discussing it. One said it perfectly: "Johnson's mistake was not in moving JCPenney to an everyday low-pricing strategy, it was taking the job in the first place. JCPenney has no reason to exist. It's reason for being is gone. It was once the place where America bought its underwear, but now they buy their underwear all sorts of other places."
I have been saying for about two years now that the trouble with Ford's Lincoln brand is that no one cares about it any more. Okay, Lincoln dealers and some current and ex-Ford employees, some of those in the airport livery and hearse businesses care. That's not a business model, though. Ford is going to try and force Lincoln on China, I hear. The Chinese want Lincoln? I doubt that.
Continue reading Lincoln needs a farewell address, not a new marketing plan
Launching an all-new car is no easy task. Case in point is the 2013 Lincoln MKZ, introduced with the fanfare of a major nationwide marketing campaign, including expensive Super Bowl ads, just as Ford was curbing production over potential quality issues. The resulting mess was nothing short of a nightmare for any automaker - customers visiting dealerships looking for cars that hadn't been delivered yet. Disappointed buyers walked out of Lincoln retailers without new keys in their hands, or switched to a competing brand to fill empty spaces in their driveways.
The impact was painful, as Lincoln's sales in January and February of this year were among the lowest it has recorded in more than a quarter century. Even though March looked a bit brighter, with the supply crisis reportedly over (there are 3,000 units in transit and production is approaching 200 units per day) the automaker is reportedly studying the feasibility of giving its pivotal MKZ the launch it originally deserved.
According to TheDetroitBureau.com, putting the MKZ back on consumer's radar could cost Ford tens of millions of dollars, but that kind of investment may be warranted if potential buyers have forgotten about the new model... or worse, if they have forgotten about Lincoln.
New York Auto Show, Jim Farley interview, 2014 Chevrolet Silverado fuel economy, Ford fuel economy app challenge
Episode #327 of the Autoblog Podcast is here, and this week, Dan Roth, Zach Bowman and Jeff Ross talk about this year's New York Auto Show, Chevrolet's latest assault in the pickup truck fuel economy battle, and Ford's reward for developing a better fuel economy app. Dan also has an interview with Ford's Jim Farley about the future of Lincoln. We wrap with your questions and emails, and for those of you who hung with us live on our UStream channel, thanks for taking the time. Keep reading for our Q&A module for you to scroll through and follow along, too. Thanks for listening!
Autoblog Podcast #327:
New York Auto Show highlights
Interview with Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing boss
Chevrolet fires latest salvo in pickup fuel economy war
Ford offering reward for fuel economy improvements
In the Autoblog Garage:
2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
2013 Jaguar XFR
2013 Chevrolet Traverse
Hosts: Dan Roth, Zach Bowman, Jeff Ross
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