By on September 19, 2010

As cars are becoming a commodity item, a rich Chinese (and there are a lot of them) needs something to set him apart from the riff-raff. Luxury cars are a booming business in the Middle Kingdom. In 2015, more than a million luxury cars are seen changing hands in China. The trouble is, nearly none of them are American. The Chinese luxury segment is all but exclusively dominated by German makes. China has become the world’s largest market for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans. In the first eight months of the year, BMW sold more cars in China than in all of 2009. Audi is China’s volume leader in the luxury segment. And the Americans?

All of Cadillac sold a measly 10,445 units in the first eight months of the year. Daimler sold more S-Class cars in China than all of Cadillac. BMW outsells Cadillac 10:1, Audi beats Cadillac 15:1. “Cadillac’s angular styling language doesn’t seem to work for the Chinese nearly as well as Buick’s more flowing bodywork,” speculates Car and Driver. More closer to the truth, “the brand simply lacks the prestige of the German nameplates.”

Conspicuously missing from China is Ford’s Lincoln. Ford is a relative nobody in China. They came late to the market, in 2003. When they looked for a joint venture partner, the pretty babes were already spoken for, and Ford had to make do with wallflower Changan.

And what about Lincoln? Forget about it, says Car and  Driver: “It’s clear from speaking with market insiders that China is not exactly eagerly awaiting Lincoln, and Ford executives privately admit that they are happy to be relieved of Volvo.”

C&D should talk to Ash Sutcliffe, the honcho behind China Car Times. Rubbing shoulders with industry leaders at the Global Automotive Forum in Chengdu, he found “a source close to Ford” that said they might make Lincolns after all. And they are aiming high. The source close to Ford said “that Lincoln will be going after BMW and Mercedes in the Chinese market, and doesn’t consider Cadillac, Acura or Infiniti as being true competition to their vehicles.” Aiming high often results in not hitting the target.

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31 Comments on “Lincoln To China?...”


  • avatar
    Monty

    “Aiming high often results in not hitting the target.”

    Or, spectacular results occur. Really, FoMoCo has nothing to lose by shooting for the stars. This could be the start of a resurgence in Lincoln; if Ford can resurrect the brand, selling enough in the Middle Kingdom to pay the tooling costs, it could lead to a renewed effort to push the division upmarket in N.A.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    It’s hard to believe Ford will have any success with Lincoln in China. Before the demise of the late, unlamented Mercury it was arguably possible to for Lincoln to be marketed as a luxury brand.
    Now, in its home market, Lincoln is what Mercury was: an uglier, gaudier and more expensive Ford for people that don’t know any better.  Lincoln is not in any way other than price and aspiration a luxury marque for most people under 80.
    Ford actually admitted that well before the end of Mercury when then relegated Lincoln to livery service and spent billions trying to elevate Volvo to luxury status.
    Meanwhile, Hyundai has had a smashing success on its hands with the Genesis, a car that reeks luxury w/o a luxury “pedigree”.
    Substance over marketing, what a concept.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      You are right, of course, that current Lincoln models are very heavily revised Fords.  However, this should be no surprise given Lincoln’s place at the bottom of the PAG pecking order.  Under Mulally, Lincoln has done pretty well with what it was given to start with.  I think that the next 5 years will tell the tale – now that Ford is stable and there is some development money available, and now that Lincoln is holding down the top end of the FoMoCo stable, if there is some idea of growing Lincoln, now is the time that the pipeline should start to fill with some new product.  I hope that it is good.

    • 0 avatar

      They aren’t heavily revised Fords.  They are just Ford vehicles with restyled body panels, a different looking interior and a higher price.  Lincoln does not have a bestpoke premium car like Cadillac has in the CTS. 

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      They are a little more than restyle jobs.  The interiors are all major upgrades, (although the new Ford models are all major upgrades there vs the previous model as well), and the Lincoln’s do have some exclusive luxury features.  The Ford bones they are built on are all good, and Lincoln makes an excellent value proposition for someone looking to buy a luxury car with the most stuff for the least amount of money.  That being said, I wouldn’t say that anything Lincoln has (except perhaps the MKT EcoBoost or MKS EcoBoost, which are both incredible vehicles that are severely underrated) competes well against models from MB or BMW, but they are also priced $10,000 – $20,000 less for similar sized vehicles with similar features and performance.
       
      Cadillac has done a great job with the CTS, but that is all they have.  The STS and DTS are both bottom of the pile in their segments, the SRX is a sales success, but isn’t anything special compared to the Lexus RX, and the new Lincoln MKX should easily give it a run for its money, and various Escalades sell in niche numbers (granted, as do all luxury full size SUVs these days).  I’m sure the benefit of a single great model hasn’t been lost on Mulally, and now that Mercury is gone, and Ford has a very solid and mostly new product portfolio, there is going to be time and money to really do something special with Lincoln.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Cadillac has done a great job with the CTS, but that is all they have.
       
      GM has the Cadillac SLS in China too.

      Although I’ve had trouble finding a worthwhile review on one, a LWB Sigma-platform vehicle is intriguing, and from pictures I’ve seen, it has the best interior GM offers anywhere.

    • 0 avatar

      NulloModo,

      My brother in law is a long time Lincoln owner, and had a series of Town Cars before the latest version. For a while he switched to a DTS Cadillac because he’s 6’5″ and Lincoln didn’t offer anything to fit. When the MKS was announced he and my sister were excited and they are thrilled with their Eco Boost MKS. His only complaint is that he still doesn’t have enough headroom to wear his hat, but they love the car.
       
      We like to make a lot of fun about Buick and Cadillac’s elderly clientelle but old folks have the most disposable income and assets. There still is a market for something that looks at feels at least something like a traditional American luxury car, while still having the latest in terms of technology, power and driving dynamics. Right now Cadillac really has nothing like that so we’ll see how the XTS turns out.
       
       
      Before he left GM Ed Whitacre greenlighted, apparently, a model to rank above the XTS, a true flagship. If GM does produce such a car, something to genuinely play in the big leagues with the S Class, 7 Series, and LS, it will be interesting to see if Mullaly takes the bait and gives Lincoln a true heir to the ’61 Continental.

  • avatar

    Ford hasn’t failed at much in the last couple of years. I realize that ostentatiously underestimating F and GM has been part of TTAC’s schtick since the beginning, but it’s already getting harder and harder to take this stuff seriously.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      OK, I’ll bite, what Lincoln do you see competing with an S-Class or a 7 Series?

    • 0 avatar
      Areitu

      @LectroByte
      It doesn’t matter how WE think of Lincolns. Only how the Chinese think of it. Examples: Buick, the Phaeton, etc. 

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      @Areitu – I understand and have seen firsthand the Chinese love for Buicks, but I don’t see that carrying up to the luxury end of the market.  Or am I missing something?   Please, explain to me how you see Lincoln as a competitor to BMW and Mercedes in China, because I am just not feeling that at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Norma

      Sadly, most North Americans, including those populate in the auto industry, have little understanding about anything outside the U.S. They ‘think’ the U.S. is the world and sees pretty much everywhere only from a North American perspective.
      GM went into the China market almost one decade ahead of Ford; GM partnered with a stronger partner; SAGM and SAVW own the fast growth market around Shanghai. Just like a few years ago when I travelled to S. IL, there seemed to be ‘a lot’ of Mitsubishi on the road, too.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    To Europeans and I suspect the Chinese the only luxury cars come from Europe. The big 3 German car makers are already doing well there and China is Land Rover’s biggest export market. Indeed JLR are currently talking to Chinese car makers about setting up production lines there.
    Cadillac has flopped spectacularly in both Europe and China and the Japanese brands are really struggling to make any headway. Ford shouldn’t bother with Lincoln unless it intend to invest big. In hindsight it should have kept JLR if it wanted premium representation in China.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    The MBA twits at Ford are going to have a hard time fooling Chinese into thinking their crap is luxurious/competitive…That mainstream media marketing stupidities only works in the USA.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Looking at Lincoln’s current offerings, all I can ask is do the Chinese like Bling?
     
    If not, oh well.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    The fact that Ford didn’t join in on the current gold rush in China worries me. To be successful, car companies are going to have to compete in what will become the world’s largest car market.
     
    I also think that Ford putting Lincoln up on a pedestal next to BMW and Mercedes is a mistake. They aren’t Lincoln competitors.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    The Chinese seem to love FWD based Buicks, so a lot of the Lincoln lineup might be right up their alley.
     
    There are a lot of people on TTAC who like to take a crap on Lincoln who have never taken the time to actually take one of the new ones for a ride.  Yes, they are based on Ford platforms, but for the most part the interiors are completely different, and easily best most Lexus models in interior quality, and with the new refreshes, the exteriors are being made to look different from the Ford donor car, and there is finally a difference in powertrains as well.  Lincoln has the most advanced and well developed infotainment/nav/telematic technology in the luxury market right now, and if the Chinese are as tech-saavy as the population of other Asian nations, that could be a big selling point.
     
    This is of course, if the Chinese market continues to expand.  At some point the close to a billion Chinese people who are still dirt poor, working in dangerous conditions, and getting paid close to slave wages so that the company president can have a nice shiny new S-Class are going to take note of the situation and do something about it.

    • 0 avatar

      FWD Buicks aren’t the target of the Chinese elite: Detroit doesn’t make a credible threat to the E-class, S-Class, 5-series, 7-series, etc.  If Lincoln went to China it would butt heads with Cadillac and Buick, not the big dogs that are inferred with the “Aiming high” comment in this blog.
      If Lincoln went to China, it’d be in the same mid-market Luxury nightmare it faces in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      <i>At some point the close to a billion Chinese people who are still dirt poor, working in dangerous conditions, and getting paid close to slave wages so that the company president can have a nice shiny new S-Class are going to take note of the situation and do something about it.</i>

      Yeh, because that worked out so well for them the first time.  It was only with the death of Mao and the rise of Deng “To get rich is glorious.” Xiaoping that China was able to escape the horrors of communism and the cultural revolution.
       

       

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      Sajeev
      You’re correct, Lincoln would compete with Buick in China.   But what’s wrong with that?   They could double their market and maybe spread tooling costs (as Monty pointed out) among more sales.    Possibly they could improve to the point where they might run with the big dogs some day.

    • 0 avatar
      Norma

      May be I’ll see a revolt, tea-party style, sooner on this land than the ‘revolt’ in the far East.

  • avatar
    Dr Strangelove

    “At some point the close to a billion Chinese people who are still dirt poor, working in dangerous conditions, and getting paid close to slave wages so that the company president can have a nice shiny new S-Class are going to take note of the situation and do something about it.”

    Such as what, shackle him to the steering wheel of a Lincoln?

  • avatar
    BDB

    “China has become the world’s largest market for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans.”
    .
    I just have to ask since someone would if we were talking about a domestic company: how much of this is fleet sales?  Don’t big German sedans serve the same purpose in Europe and Asia that Lincoln Town Cars/the Cadillac DTS does in the USA, as limos, vehicles for government VIPs, and airport taxis?

    Someone already pointed out that Volkswagen’s best selling models there are used extensively as police cars and taxis.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Selling old and tired rebadged Fords is not working here…let alone the world stage.
    Lincoln is the biggest joke in the luxury world…because nothing about them says ‘luxury’……they all say, “overpriced, fancy Ford”.
    To charge the outrageous amount of money that Lincoln does…the product needs to exude luxury…in an Audi/BMW/Mercedes sort of way…not a “let’s see how many people we can rip off with these tarted up Fords” kind of way.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      I used to think the same thing – but as Nullo points out, you can get a lot of luxury for much less cost with Lincoln.   Sure, it doesn’t compare to BMW/Merc but maybe people are satisfied with where Lincoln is.
      I don’t know.   I’m old enough to remember when the ’60s suicide door continentals were new.   They were more than tarted up Fords – and that’s what I tend to think Lincoln should be.   But that’s an outmoded view of the brand.   Maybe the appeal is that you get all the features and toys for thousands less.
      There must be some appeal, because I see people driving Lincolns.  And they aren’t all 80 years old.   To my mind, the first thought is “Damn, that’s a lot to spend on a Ford”.  But maybe the buyers are looking at it differently.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    Perhaps the answer for Lincoln lies in rebadging a version of the rear-wheel drive Australian Ford Falcon as a Lincoln.  Similar moves seemed to have worked well for GM.

    • 0 avatar
      moedaman

      If Ford wants Lincoln to compete, it needs to invest in a rear drive platform for it ( a new platform and not the worn out Panther). I have a friend who has a Lincoln MKS and while it is very nice, isn’t anywhere near the car the CTS is. If Ford wants people to give Lincoln a serious look, then they should have done more, a lot more with it. As it is right now the brand competes with Buick but is more expensive. Although pricing the hybrid version of the MKZ the same price as the V-6 version is a good move since Buick doesn’t have anything like it in their line-up. But Lincoln still needs a flagship that can compete with other luxury flagships.

  • avatar
    mjz

    If the next generation Lincolns aren’t more highly differentiated from their Ford based brethren, this plan will never fly.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    All they need to do is build this. Even though the design is almost 10 years old, it still has the potential to save Lincoln. Doesn’t matter if it’s the US, China or Mars.
    http://www.netcarshow.com/lincoln/2002-continental_concept/


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