Despite marketing its Lincoln brand as “not just luxury… it’s smarter than that,” Ford has finally admitted what the car guy world has been saying for some time: Lincoln isn’t a luxury brand… it’s a rebadge brand. Ford’s product honcho Derrick Kuzak tells Automotive News [sub] that the jig is up and there will be
No more badge engineering
But publicly smacking down poor-selling outgoing models as a way of proving that “we get it starting now” is hardly a new practice in Detroit. The real question is what can Kuzak show us in the way of a light at the end of this tunnel? Step one was apparently creating a Lincoln division that was materially different from Ford. In addition to what we learned recently about Lincoln getting its own design team, Kuzak reveals that
On the engineering side, Lincoln has a director of product development, Scott Tobin, a change from six months ago. There are Lincoln-exclusive powertrain development people, and there will be unique powertrains in some models, paired with eight-speed transmissions.
Still not feeling an upswell of optimism about Lincoln’s future? Have another glass of Kool Aid, and consider the following new “Lincoln unique” features that will differentiate Ford’s luxury brand:
— Push-button shifting controls. Forget the gimmicky chrome push-button shifts on the infamous Edsel. Taking out the shift column opens up the look of the interior.
— Fully retractable, all-glass roofs. This is not a typical 2-foot-by-1-foot sunroof, but a massive sliding pane.
— Continuously controlled damping, which allows a driver to choose among ride qualities.
— Available all-wheel drive in all models. This is available in Lincolns today, except the soon-to-disappear Town Car.
Unless Lincoln’s new 100-man design team comes up with some serious swagger, these features just won’t cut it. And without a hint of remotely unique product coming down the line (Focus and next-gen Escape “non-rebadges” are all we’re hearing about), Lincoln will continue to flounder. But Lincoln’s still signaling that its approach isn’t fundamentally wrong… the problem it seems, was the consumers. According to AN [sub], Ford’s fixed that problem, by re-orienting Lincoln towards
what Lincoln calls “progressive luxury” customers.
A traditional luxury buyer might stay at a Ritz or Four Seasons hotel; a progressive luxury consumer would prefer a small boutique hotel. Both demand the same level of performance, feel and quiet in their vehicles. But Lincoln’s target buyers view their vehicles as expressions of their personalities, not as trophies that show the neighbors they’ve arrived.
The “old luxury” meme is as old of an out-of-ideas marketing chestnut as “we want to be like Apple.” Interestingly, the brand that is most referenced in discussion of the Lincoln turnaround, Audi, used the exact term in its last Super Bowl ad blitz. But as far as Kuzak is concerned, the new design team, customer orientation and features are the final step needed to accomplish his luxury brand’s ultimate goal.
set Lincolns apart from even a top-of-the-line, flagship Ford Taurus.
But is the problem that Lincoln is too closely positioned to Ford or that it’s simply not competitive with the vast array of competitive luxury brands? After all, moving away from the Ford brand is not the same thing as moving towards success in the luxury market…