By on November 9, 2009

Endangered species. (courtesy themotorreport.com.au)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if you want proof that Ford’s water-walking CEO doesn’t “get” automotive branding, look at Lincoln. The Blue Oval Boyz’ upmarket marque is in total disarray. Lincoln lacks anything approaching an effective brand proposition; it’s burning through tag lines almost as quickly and ineffectively as the industry standard for pitiful performance (Buick). Does it even matter? Lincoln’s line of lackluster products simply aren’t good enough to make it in The Bigs. And then there’s the Medusa-class disaster known as the MKT: a poorly-built, misbegotten machine constructed on Big Al’s watch. Automotive News [sub] deployed no less than three writers to talk to Mulally about languid old Lincoln, AND they spotted him the lazy journalist’s and persnickety PR person’s best friend: the Q&A format. Even so, the result is an extraordinary non-outburst from an executive who believes that combining Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers is a good thing. Check out this exchange:

AN: But is there enough for the stand-alone Lincoln Mercury dealers?

Mulally: I think in the future you will see more and more dualing of the dealerships.

AN: Will we eventually see the stand-alone Lincoln Mercury store go away?

Mulally: I think we’ll see more Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

AN: Any tips for how the remaining stand-alones can stay in business and make a profit?

Mulally: I think we’ll just see more Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

AN But does that make sense in the metro areas?

Mulally: I think we’ll see more Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealerships.

Stonewall much? Anyway, there’s lots more mishegoss where that came from. Specifically, a stunning example of the law of unintended anecdote

I’ll share a recent experience: I was driving a Lincoln MKS and visiting a stand-alone Ford store, and I was sitting in the car in front of the showroom for a few minutes. There was a salesman outside on the sidewalk right in front of this Lincoln MKS. and he starts talking it up to a customer, but then the punch line was: “Well, this is pretty much the same as the Taurus, the Taurus actually looks even better. I have the Taurus around the side, and it costs $10,000 less. Come look at the Taurus.”

That wasn’t a Ford-Lincoln-Mercury store, but that salesman saw that Lincoln and he jumped right on it to use it as a sales tool.

To their credit, at least one of the AN writers saw the story for what it was: a convincing argument against combining Ford and Lincoln dealerships.

AN:  . . . if the sales guy thinks it’s easier to sell him the Ford, you’re going to sell fewer Lincolns, won’t you?

Mulally: I know your one example. But we’ve got a lot of people that are buying Lincolns, and they love Lincolns. The people that have dualed stores know they want to have an experience that fits the vehicle that they’re selling, so they’ll do it to be successful. They’ll have two different experiences.

Even within the same store?

Yeah, if you go to the stores that are doing it well, they really have an enhanced experience. A lot of stores are doing it very well.

Sorry Ford fans, but how hard is it to understand what Lincoln needs to survive: class-leading products (relative to Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus) and class-leading dealer care (relative to the same players). A Lincoln buyer rubbing shoulders with a Fiesta owner ain’t it. Nor is the MKT.

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30 Comments on “FoMoCo CEO Alan Mulally Links Lincoln to Ford Dealers...”


  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    We here in Canada do not have Mercury anymore, could the same thing occur in the USA?

  • avatar
    slateslate

    face it, mullaly’s probably seen the numbers. it’s too expensive to bring Lincoln up to par with Lexus/BMW/Merc.

    Ford’s money is better spent on the F-series to crush Ram/Silverado/Tacoma.

  • avatar
    86er

    Sorry Ford fans, but how hard is it to understand what Lincoln needs to survive: class-leading products

    You mean class leading products like a true Town Car flagship replacement? I’m not holding my breath.

    A Lincoln buyer rubbing shoulders with a Fiesta owner ain’t it.

    Been happening in Canada for over 10 years. No idea as to the relative effects as you imply here. M. Levesque? Anyone?

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      @86er: Been happening in Canada for over 10 years. No idea as to the relative effects as you imply here. M. Levesque? Anyone?
      I checked the sales stats, and in Canada Lincoln’s sales are down about 11% from 2007 to 2009., compared to the 40% drop in the US.  As a reference point, Cadillac has seen a near-identical 50% drop in both countries.
      So while logic says that the dualing should have hurt Lincoln, the sales numbers don’t bear it out.  One factor that might be influencing the number is the sheer number of franchises: with every Ford dealer able to sell Lincoln, there are surely more dealers selling the brand than there were before.  And maybe that makes a bigger difference than the loss of exclusivity.
      However, combining Ford and Lincoln at the same dealerships surely will make Mercure even more irrelevant than it already is …

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      Exactly. For all the nonsense spewed about it potentially hurting Lincoln, the sales figures from Canada DO NOT bear that out.

  • avatar
    ohsnapback

    “Hello Sir/Ma’am. Welcome to BELOW (Badge Engineering Lincoln of Washington).

    Here is our Lincoln MKS, which is the same car as the Ford Taurus over there.

    Here is our Lincoln MKX, which is the same as that Ford Edge right there.

    Here is our Lincoln MKZ, which is the same as that Ford Fusion in that far corner.

    And finally, here is our Lincoln MKT, which is essentially the same under the sheet metal as that Ford Flex in the other far corner.

    Any questions?”

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “Hello Sir/Ma’am. Welcome to BELOW (Badge Engineering Lincoln of Washington).”

    ohsnapback:

    You essentially nailed it! Only difference is the Ford is cheaper and not as bugly.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Hold it! They can’t bring Lincoln up to par with BMW/Merc? Ford used to excel at building vehicles that would rust. That will put you an a par with Mercedes. Throw in a few electrical glitch’s and that puts you at the BMW level.

    All they got do now is overprice it and we got a Lexus.

  • avatar
    TZ

    VW and Audi (and Porsche, in many cases) have been selling cars in the same showrooms for decades.

    Don’t see the problem.

    • 0 avatar
      mpresley

      While there are shared components between VW brands,  no one believes that an A4 is a Passat, or an A3 is somehow a replacement for a GTI.  This is really remarkable in a way, since the engines and some of the mechanicals are shared.  However, you don’t see rebadged VWs with leather being sold as Audis (a neighbor has what appears to be an F-150 pickup branded Lincoln).  There is a difference between selling different cars in the same showroom, and selling the same cars with different names in the same showroom.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    Combined selling would lead amateur salespeople to switch customers to the less expensive product, due to the price resistance from the customer. Exactly what you pointed out. The lack of income earning at a dealership has given way to very unsavvy unknowledgeable drones waiting on customers. Most not knowing the difference between a 4 cyl. and a 6 cyl., could hurt the hi line end of the business, when combining with meat and potato cars. That’s why you don’t see Camry’s parked next to ES Lexus models. This could mean disaster for Lincoln.

  • avatar
    Maverick

    While Ford vehicles are maybe the best they have ever been, it seems like Lincolns are simply tarted-up Fords with up-level leather and fancy grilles.

    A few years back, Lincoln had the chance to create a true American premium/luxury brand—I still think there is a market for that among Domestic buyers—but decided to go the Honda/Acura route with a step-up brand to Ford. Now they have to go with this strategy. Not sure it will work, but then again, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Lincoln.

  • avatar
    th009

    @TZ: VW and Audi (and Porsche, in many cases) have been selling cars in the same showrooms for decades.

    VW and Audi now require separate showrooms with brand-specific appearance. Almost always separate buildings, preferably separate locations.

  • avatar
    TomH

    I completely disagree that Mulally, doesn’t “get” automotive branding.  I’ll see your anecdotal reference to a Ford salesman ragging on the Lincoln that doesn’t make him 2¢ in commissions and raise you the Mulally anecdote regarding the brand value of Taurus.  With “One Ford,” Mulally is driving the concept of brand critical better than any of his US counterparts.
    One more thing, I’m not so sure what’s so hard to understand about Ford/Lincoln.  Ford doesn’t have the C-11 luxury of ignoring State franchise laws in rationalizing their Mercury franchise.  They have to get there the hard(er) way.

  • avatar
    TomH

    I completely disagree that Mulally, doesn’t “get” automotive branding.  I’ll see your anecdotal reference to a Ford salesman ragging on the Lincoln that doesn’t make him 2¢ in commissions and raise you the Mulally anecdote regarding the brand value of Taurus.  With “One Ford,” Mulally is driving the concept of brand critical better than any of his US counterparts.
    One more thing, I’m not so sure what’s so hard to “get” Ford/Lincoln.  Ford doesn’t have the C-11 luxury of ignoring State franchise laws in rationalizing their Mercury franchise.  They have to get there the hard(er) way.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    News flash, Ford family members ran/run Lincoln and Mercury and hold super-voting stock.
    Lincoln could design a banana with wheels and Mullaly still couldn’t fire them.

  • avatar
    wsn

    A.M. actually does get it. What’s the right thing to do for the three brands of Ford? Obviously:
    1) Kill Mercury
    2) Differentiate Ford and Lincoln further, but providing more upscale and more expensive Lincolns
    However, this would mean a lot of hurt to exclusive Mercury or Lincoln dealers, which is bad PR and less market coverage. To make every dealer F-L-M, Ford can eliminate Mercury easily at some point and upscale Lincoln. That way, each dealer will sell fewer of the more expensive Lincolns, but the overall sales would grow because there are more dealers.
     

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Now, no one can even figure out what Lincoln sells.  Their MKx designation destroyed whatever brand recognition they might have had, and now no one really cares.  Sort of like Acura, without the build quality (probably), but with a similar goofy “where can we tack on some extra chrome?” appearance.  I’d buy a Ford before I’d buy a Lincoln, and a Honda before an Acura.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Mulally thinks we’ll  see more Ford Lincoln dealerships because he knows Lincoln dealers can not survive as standalones. Quite frankly I don’t know how you could screw up the LM brand anymore than Ford already has. I sold LM for the better part of 30 years and both Lincoln and Mercury used to be viable brands but no more. 99.9% of the car buying public don’t even know the names of Lincoln models or the vehicles they make. In today’s market no brand is more completely irrelevant than LM.

  • avatar
    KingShango

    Cut the guy some slack. He’s made enormous progress in a short time without C11. Oh no, Lincoln’s rep might take a hit, because its so sterling right now! The guy has monumental problems and limited resources to deal with them.
    Mulally has made it plain as day that his focus is in restoring the Ford brand. Which makes sense to me. Cut off an arm and the body can live, but if you kill the body nothing survives. If a Lincoln revival has to be put on the back burner, so be it.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    There may be an advantage in stabling the Lincolns with the Fords.  In the showroom, my Genesis V8 Tech was at the center in a row of low-cost Hyundais and the contrast in appearance and fitment simply made it look that much better.

    Of course, the Genesis wasn’t simply a lower cosy box with better leather and a bigger grille.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    This plan makes sense if Mulally intends to kill Mercury. In fact, if Lincoln kept their current design and trim levels but moved into Mercury’s price range, they would probably sell well, certainly better than Lincoln and Mercury do the way they are now.
    I don’t see Lincoln moving up market at this point.  It would be too costly and it would take several product cycles before Lincoln was a credible player in that field.  I think it makes sense to either move further downmarket or to shut it down entirely.

  • avatar
    George B

    The main customer advantage to going to a Lincoln Mercury dealership is good customer service.  Fast service when there are few customers.  Not sure what Ford Motor Company gets out of selling a large number of units at busy Ford dealerships and a very small number of units at quiet Lincoln Mercury dealerships.

    I’m over 40 and I only remember one time when Lincoln was anything more that Ford with extra stuff at a higher price.  The Lincoln LS was a good unique platform which would have been more interesting and less expensive to build if Ford gave it V8 engines from the SVO parts bin.  Challenge the engineers behind the F-150 Lightning, Mustang Cobra, etc. to make a high performance Lincoln sedan.

  • avatar
    dwford

    I worked in a Ford Lincoln Mercury dealership for 2 years. The building and buying experience were up to Lincoln standards. I never had even one buyer compare a Lincoln to the Ford equivalent, nor Lincoln vs Mercury. The Lincoln buyers were not noticing that the Lincolns shared chassis and sheetmetal with the Fords. And even Mercury buyers thought the Mercurys had a better ride and were more substantial than the obviously the same Ford.
    I guess branding works.

  • avatar
    dwford

    That said, long term Ford needs to give Lincoln its own chassis to create 3-4 Lincolns off of, a la Infiniti.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    This plan makes sense if Mulally intends to kill Mercury.

    Yep.  The plan suggests that Mulally has limited hopes for Lincoln, and that Mercury will either be converted into a niche brand or else killed off entirely.  Either way, there wouldn’t be enough volume to support standalone Lincoln-Mercury franchises, hence the need to consolidate.

    For Ford, that seems to be a good plan.  It would appear that the long-term view is to build Ford as a global brand, which limits the role of Lincoln in the company’s future.  That strikes me as making a lot more sense than GM’s apparent desire to turn Cadillac into a global marque, even though the rest of the globe doesn’t particularly want it.

    • 0 avatar
      Len_A

      The game plan is to convert Mercury to a slightly up level small car niche – that was publicly discussed by Ford over two years ago. A next-gen Focus based small car, the Milan and the Mariner will be it for Mercury by 2012

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Veering slightly, but still related to the topic, I believe Ford has made a mistake not going C11 like the other domestics.     Ford will end up with the least efficient, proportionately most bloated dealer network, selling few cars per dealer than the domestic competition – to say nothing of the real competition.
    W/o C11 they can’t easily get rid of dealers (even with C11 it’s not that easy) and about the only way to kill a brand is to “dual” the dealerships.   But if every LM dealership becomes a Ford dealer, Ford will have gone backwards as far as the Ford brand goes – way too many dealers already. Why add more?

    If the plan is for only Ford dealers to add on, there would still be a need to actually differentiate the cars. Sure Mercury can die off, but Lincoln has to be more than a gussied up Ford.

    They should have filed C11 and just killed the LM division.

  • avatar
    vexner

    Did not Chrysler with the K-car platform try the same thing?

    At least the K-car variants equiped equally cost basically the same thing…but what a way to diminish any brand equity. 

  • avatar

    Could someone please tell me how many pieces of chrome it takes to make a Ford Flex look like a Lincoln MKT?


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