Having divested much of its premium brand portfolio (Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin), Ford is missing out on luxury sales in growth markets like China. So it comes as no surprise that Automotive News [sub] would ask Ford President of the Americas Mark “MKF” Fields whether Ford’s Lincoln brand could go global. Fields’ reply?
Potentially, but we are focusing Lincoln here in North America for right now. We don’t have any plans at this point to take it global. That doesn’t mean in the future we wouldn’t look at that, but it’s very important for us to focus on North America.
The question (and its distinct non-answer) open an uncomfortable can of worms for Ford. Thus far, Alan Mulally’s regime has focused on building up the Ford brand as a global player, largely relegating its remaining luxury divisions to rebadge-based irrelevance. As the Ford brand starts to gain its footing with truly global products, the FoMoCo will eventually have to start figuring out a strategy for Lincoln and Mercury.
For Mercury, death is the only real option. Other than possibly keeping it as a dedicated hybrid or EV brand, there’s nowhere to go with the Jill Wagner brand but the grave. Besides stealing focus from Lincoln and gaining a tiny bit of incremental profit, Mercury has little to no role to play in Ford’s future. Coming to terms with this reality is the first step to figuring out Ford’s luxury brand strategy.
From there, Lincoln will require immense investment to recreate it as a luxury brand of global relevance. It’s re-workings of Ford products are of the latter day GM school: just restyled enough to prevent widespread accusations of cynical rebadging. Needless to say, this will not be enough to generate enthusiasm among American luxury buyers (Lincoln’s US sales fell nearly 23 percent last year to their lowest level since 1981), let alone China’s nouveau riche who have no history with the brand. Especially with products like Ford’s Taurus SHO intruding on its premium positioning and price point.
Unfortunately, Ford’s colossal debt won’t allow for much in the way of unique Lincoln product development. The pre-requisite of winding down the Mercury brand won’t be cheap either. Still, with the Premier Auto Group now defunct, it’s getting to be about time for Ford to turn towards its luxury strategy and figure out how to make the most out of a tough situation. One thing is for certain: with Lincoln and Mercury withering on the vine to vary extents, inaction on this front is not an option.