By on August 15, 2011

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

Promise?

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…

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53 Comments on “Lincoln: “No More Badge Engineering”...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    There are Lincoln-exclusive powertrain development people, and there will be unique powertrains in some models…

    A Lincoln-brand engine?! Someone cue up Ode to Joy.

    • 0 avatar
      drylbrg

      I’m taking that to mean Lincoln tuned/sized versions of Ford engines. They might also get slightly modified transmissions. I just don’t see them laying out the cash for a whole new engine family just for Lincoln.

  • avatar
    dwford

    What’s old is new again. Remember when Lincoln had it’s own headquarters in California? While Lincolns have mostly shared chassis with regular Fords, they haven’t always been just nose and tail rebadge jobs. And say what you will about the styling, the MKT certainly doesn’t share any body panels with the Flex! Nor does the MKS with the Taurus. I guess we will see very soon how serious Ford is about differentiating Lincoln when we see the new MKZ.

  • avatar
    npbheights

    Ford has been making really good cars for some time. Lincolns are simply Fords with a more formal look, nicer interiors, more powerful engines and a better warranty. What is so bad about that?

    BTW: Lincolns have been ‘nicer Fords’ since before my avatar was made. Lincolns could have been even better by now had they reinvested their profits into it and had not wasted their money on projects that most people never associated with Ford, namely: Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Volvo, Mazda. Lincoln would have been really something by now, and most of those brands would be relegated to the dustbin of history had Ford not invested so much money into them. When I tell most people that any of those brands were owned or controlled by Ford until recently, they look at me like I just said something crazy.

    • 0 avatar
      Tstag

      npbheights Ford invested in JLR and co because they had global reach. Lincoln does not, which is why even now Ford is reluctant to splash the cash. Ford could spend they just don’t want to and rightly so.

      • 0 avatar
        npbheights

        What good is ‘global reach’ when it looses billions of dollars for you? If they wouldn’t have wasted billions of dollars over 20+ years acquiring, and then overhauling those ‘broken’ car companies, and had invested it in themselves, Fords, Lincolns, and dare I say Mercury vehicles could have been incredible cars. I will admit that they probably thought they were making wise choices at the time, and it’s easy to look back after the fact, but the ‘what if’ will always be there for me.

    • 0 avatar
      McrayZ

      npbheights, I totally agree. There’s nothing wrong with Lincoln being a nicer ford. However the reasoning goes that the job of rebadging already nice fords should be done by mercury, and a Lincoln should be nicer still. I’m not sure that I follow that reasoning but I recently purchased a brand new MKZ and couldn’t be happier. I didn’t buy it because of the associated prestige or perceived luxury. I bought it because I liked the interior ad exterior packaging. I got mine with a sun roof and chrome wheels. Finished in tuxedo black, that thing looks SHARP!

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Oh give up Ford, just buy a profitable premium car company with global sales like I dunno…. JLR? Oh wait…. I forgot Lincoln’s a better bet…

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Talk.
    talk.
    Talk.

    Shut up and deliver.

    When Ford builds a real Lincoln, it will sell. I don’t think buyers will care if it is made from recycled top hats and canes, when the formula is right – success will follow.

    And shut the hell up about “progressive luxury” buyers. This is no time for more marketer’s belchings.

    Just build the damn Lincolns.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      What the hell is wrong with Ford? Who runs Lincoln? How can they not know what Lincoln is supposed to be?

      Today is THEIR market. Swag is cool. Mad Men is in. How could they have missed this opportunity? How the hell can they build a MKT? Do I have to tell them what their market is?

      OK – I will, damn it!

      Lincolns should be like black businessmen’s suits. You need one when you are mature enough to know you need one. Their customer base exists. Lincoln’s customer base should be mature men who know single malts, locker rooms, good cigars, leather soled shoes, real beer, steak, Frank Sinatra music and fatherhood. That market will not die anymore than any the items on that list.

      Lincolns are cars for men. They should look like they are driven by a 55 year old self-made businessman. Powerful, athletic, trim, cufflinks, dark framed eyeglasses, and no BS. ALPHA MALE.

      That market will not die. While it may have fallen out of fashion for a generation as Boomers chased their Peter Pan fantasies, there are new generations of men to satisfy with men’s cars like real Lincolns.

      Build them as masculine as the guys who drive them.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    What’s sad is, most of the above comments could apply to Cadillac, too.

    • 0 avatar
      npbheights

      2 billion to FIAT, billions wasted on Saab, HUMMER, creating Saturn out of thin air to let Olds die and never turning a profit with it. Arguably not as blatant, but very true geozinger

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @npb: I was kind of riffing off of Vanilla Dude’s comments right above mine, but basically he said: “When Ford builds a real Lincoln, it will sell.”

        I will paraphrase: When GM builds a real Cadillac, it will sell.

        Both Ford and GM have had incredibly expensive distractions to the core business over the last 30-40 years, although the acquisitions in the 80′s-90′s were the most painful.

        Cadillac is slightly further down the road than Lincoln, but I can’t see my wealthy German cousin trading his MB for a Cadillac or Lincoln now or anytime in the near future.

        Neither company builds a car (right now) that competes at that level.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    One thing is certain: Mulally will not allow Lincoln to lose money. So, unless Lincoln goes international and gets Audi-like worldwide volume we can forget about getting an Audi-like luxury car. By necessity, the new Lincolns will continue to be Fords, as always, just with more exclusive (for a while) features and styling. Perhaps that will be enough to keep the lights on here in North America. Nothing new here.

    • 0 avatar
      Bryce

      Lincoln out side the US means ugly barge not luxury perhaps if Lincoln built a decent car just once it could have a chance but it never has and unlikely ever will.

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        Bryce – nobody outside of the US has any idea what a Lincoln ‘is’. Even as a car enthusiast in the UK, until I moved to North America I had no real idea of what the brand represented #edit (I still don’t) as they just don’t exist on the road in the UK and Europe (and Asia and the Middle East… and well, everywhere outside of the US and Canada).
        My only exposure to a review of a Lincoln, was a piss-take of a 1985 Town Car by Jeremy Clarkson. Referring to the ride: “If you can imagine sharing a waterbed with a baboon that’s just been doused in itching powder, then and only then are you beginning to get the picture.”
        To your average car buyer in the UK, Lincoln is an old city with a lovely cathedral in the east Midlands – not a car brand.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    It’s simply an absurdity to continue with the Lincoln marque as Ford has been doing. A fresh start requires what was done for the 1961 model year: Build an all-new Lincoln Continental – or perhaps simply Continental, as the Lincoln name is really rather musty – and forget about trying to offer cars as various as fancy-yet-economical FWD sedans and luxury SUVs. That’s just silly, in part because such brands as Audi and Lexus already cover such a range and have carefully built their reputations as more than just tarted-up VWs and Toyotas, respectively.

    Of course there would be no point in having stand-alone Lincoln dealers if only one car line were offered, but I doubt that more than a few stand-alone Lincoln dealers currently offering the full line of cars are profitable.

    • 0 avatar
      getacargetacheck

      “Of course there would be no point in having stand-alone Lincoln dealers if only one car line were offered…”

      Perhaps taking that line of thought to its logical conclusion means ditching Lincoln altogether and replacing it with another Ford “halo” car (maybe a Fusion-based 4-door coupe Thunderbird?)and more feature-packed trim levels for existing Ford lines (e.g., Fusion Limited). While they’re at it, move the “Taurus” name back to the mid-size offering where it can compete with the Accord and Camry again. Then, rename the D3 sedan LTD.

      • 0 avatar
        Jellodyne

        A Fusion-based halo car? Surely you jest. How about a stretched Mustang-based 4 door coupe? Call it the Ford Falcoln. Share engineering with the Aussie Falcoln or not, but regardless, you’ve got the basis for a real halo car in the current Mustang.

        Actually, that’s not a bad idea for a Lincoln, if you want to go Vanilla’s ‘Lincolns are for men’ route — a Mustang 5.0 based MKZ.

        Edit: Scrolling down I see I’m not the first to suggest this.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    Until Lincon comes up with something akin to an A4 or 3 series, they are not on my radar. Give me something that looks (And is) sporty, burns corners, goes from 0-60 in low 6 seconds, gets at least 31 mpg on the highway, and comes with AWD and a FREAKING STICK SHIFT. then we’ll talk.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    Not buying it. Talk is cheap. Proof is in the pudding…er, product. Right now it simply sounds like this Kuzak guy’s just daydreaming a pie in the sky, after he’s been smoking something good. “Progressive Luxury”? Either it’s a marketing speak, or if these consumers do exist, it’ll be cold in hell before they consider Lincolns. But then again, the proof is in the product. Who would’ve bought cars like the Hyundai Genesis a few years ago anyway? If they somehow managed to build it, people might (and just might) buy it. Given their track record, though, I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Dead brand walking!

    We have a dead brand walking the mile! Walking the green mile!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    As a brand, Lincoln has little traction in the US, and virtually no traction anywhere else. For it to sell enough cars at high enough prices in order to profitable, it would have to expand into world markets, something that it has little to no chance of doing.

    If I were at Ford, I would starve Lincoln until the dealer network went away. Instead of wasting resources on Lincoln, I’d develop some near-luxury platforms that all carry a Ford badge and that could be sold in more than one market, accepting the fact that S-class territory will never be reached with that label. Trick out and globalize the Ford Falcon and turn it into a 3/5-series competitor on a budget, for example.

    Ford had its chance with Jaguar and it couldn’t make that succeed. The odds with Lincoln are even lower.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      I recall seeing somewhere that the Falcon has become such an Oz-only item that re-engineering it for LHD would be cost prohibitive.

      • 0 avatar
        outback_ute

        The current model is engineering-protected for LHD – they just need to flick the switch to start making LHD steering & dashboard etc. The guys at Ford Australia have been fighting to do LHD for example for middle-east export markets as GM did, but were always denied by head office.

  • avatar
    evan

    Wow, that’s a pretty good dissection of the PR nonsense that issues from most major car companies. The more I read about marketing execs trying to attach their purely fictional product to an established brand, the more I know they in fact ‘don’t get it’.

    I love that they use the word ’boutique’ to describe their positioning and actually think that neighbors would be incredibly impressed to see a new – gasp – Lincoln in someone’s driveway! (But of course, Lincoln doesn’t want to just trade on their amazing prestige… yeah, uh huh)

    This from the same company that made this junk http://www.automedia.com/New_Cars/lincoln_navigator-l_2011_photos_SUV_Exterior_1-Front-Left.jpg

    I occassionally have faith in Ford’s professional culture, but this is pure drivel.

  • avatar

    Button shifters were stupid in Aston-Martins and they will be stupid in a Lincoln.

    Neither Ford nor Cadillac will commit to a real big power car because some twit says the Escalade is too much.

    RIP Lincoln.

  • avatar
    tced2

    Nearly all automatic transmission Chryslers in the 50′s and 60′s had pushbutton gear selectors. (My father had a ’57 Plymouth with pushbuttons to the left of the steering wheel). The public endured them but didn’t really “like” them. Admittedly, the Chrysler buttons were mechanical and some “new” things could be done with electronic buttons but would this really convince you to buy a Lincoln?

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I’m glad that Ford dumped JLR in favor of reviving Lincoln. As an American company Ford should consider it its duty to hold the flame for an American brand rich in history like Lincoln. A lack of national pride is one of the greatest problems facing the US right now. Patriotism almost has negative overtones to many people who automatically associate American Pride with redneck ‘Muricans who hate them furiners. There is a place for being proud of your country and the accomplishments and history of your country in this increasingly global world. We should be planning on putting the worlds tallest buildings, longest bridges, most sought-after vacation destinations, and most advanced communications and data infrastructures back on American soil. We need dedication, faith in our abilities, and perseverance to regain our position as the beacon of success and shining example of hope and a better life that the rest of the world tries to emulate. Those with no faith who would rather we give up because we don’t build a luxury car quite as good as the Germans yet, or who think we should pass the torch of world leader to China, are a cancer in our society.

    International sales aren’t important right now. Lincoln needs to regain its glory in its home market before worrying about taking over the world. Hyundai and Kia used to be unknowns and jokes in the US market, but look how far they’ve come. Lincoln can move into overseas markets when the US sales are clicking along and the new products have had a chance to evolve.

    • 0 avatar
      Silvy_nonsense

      “International sales aren’t important right now.”

      I feel that you are dead wrong on that point. Ford and GM’s futures lie overseas. The U.S. will always be important, but ignoring foreign markets, especially the BRIC countries, would be a fatal error. Waiting around for things to “click” in the U.S. before heading into overseas markets just isn’t a realistic strategy.

      Ford and GM are global concerns – both companies need to be moving forward in all markets simultaneously. For Lincoln to become a viable brand with really interesting products, its going to have to produce products that are desirable to customers on several continents.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        Eventually overseas markets will be important – but you can’t run before you can walk. China has something of a luxury car addiction at the moment, but the Chinese economy could bust as quickly as it’s booming. Russia seems to have a significant market for luxury vehicles, but I don’t think there is much going on in Brazil or India in the high end segment yet.

        The next step for Lincoln in the US is growing away from near-Ford copies to something more like what Audi does compared to VW – platforms are shared, but sheetmetal, interiors, and to a certain degree powertrains are unique. Once Lincoln has enough credibility re-established in the US through that approach it will be time to bring out some dedicated Lincoln platforms to directly compete with the big Bimmers and Mercs. Once the US sales are strong enough and Lincoln has good momentum it will be time to establish it in foreign markets. If the brand is popular and a status symbol in the US, it can be overseas as well. When music industry and Hollywood stars are seen in Lincolns, and Lincolns are shown as the car to have in blockbuster movies, the desire to own one and emulate US pop culture will spread.

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    Kuzak sees a relationship between Ford & Lincoln that mirrors that between Honda & Acura. Lincoln would be an industrial Art Deco alternative to mainstream Ford products. If it’s done convincingly, it might be enough to keep the brand moving forward in the short term.
    In the long term, a major investment will have to be made to realistically position the brand in the market place. To keep the brand, Ford will have to be brought, kicking & screaming, to the point where they willingly make that investment.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    How to fix Lincoln for Dummies, quickly.

    Take Mustang platform, refine for luxury duty

    Build a 2 door and 4 door luxury sport sedan. V6/V8 engines. 8AT/6MT Transmissions. Competes with G37/3er/ATS.

    Build a 4 door mid/large sedan on said platform to compete with the 5er/E Class/Infiniti M. V6/V8 engines. Best in class….something

    Start with that. It’s worked for Nissan. Infiniti is doing a helluva lot better than Lincoln. Ford has the tools to use this same formula!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I emailed a dealer to see if they had a (well-publicized) MKZ hybrid. “No. No hybrids, but do you want to drive a regular MKZ?”

    Since they culled the only dealership that was within a half hour drive of me, no, no I don’t.

    Come to think of it, the only Ford dealership within a half hour of my office closed too. The Dodge dealership is gone too. The Chevy dealer is still hanging in there, though.

    I still am skeptical of the dealer culling philosophy. I’m not going to buy a car if there’s no convenient place to get it serviced.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I’m surprised that no one else has said it yet. Lincoln needs a unique platform. Ok. There’s this certain platform that Ford isn’t using any more, which could be used to produce a grand luxury car like no other, if Dearborn would just put some money into it instead of letting it die . . Dare we utter its name . . . .

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Lincoln is a laughing stock in the automotive world today and that honor isn’t going away anytime soon.

    Ford has already announced that they are dumping $1 billion into Lincoln (non-existent) revival. That, spread across seven “new or refreshed models”, means that Ford is not serious about taking Lincoln from what it is now (A trim level on a mediocre Ford that doesn’t even compete with Buick) to a legit luxury player.

    $1 billion *MAY* be enough to turn the Lincoln Taurus into something worth buying…$1 billion *MAY* be enough to turn the Lincoln Edge into something worth buying, but it’s not NEAR enough for the whole brand.

    Ford is incapable of turning Lincoln around. They should focus on making the Ford brand worth talking about rather than rehashing the same, old tired designs for a near-luxury “brand” that doesn’t stand a chance against brands like Buick, etc.

    Oh…and the stupid, nonsensical, alphabet soup naming scheme needs to go as well. It just confuses the consumer…all 3 of them.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      [i]“Oh…and the stupid, nonsensical, alphabet soup naming scheme needs to go as well. It just confuses the consumer…all 3 of them.”[/i]

      Truthfully – if someone else was paying for it, I’d much rather have a CTS wagon instead of a SRX. Alphabet soup, anyone?

  • avatar
    otaku

    “Oh…and the stupid, nonsensical, alphabet soup naming scheme needs to go as well.”

    I think the same sentiment could apply to your choice of username.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind if some of the old Lincoln model names (Continental, Zephyr, Versailles, Town Car, etc.) made a comeback.

  • avatar

    Lincoln should be the American Lexus/MB

    Mercury should have been the American Audi/Acura.

    .
    Unless Lincoln hires someone the caliber of Peter Schreyer or better, all their prospects are a joke.

    The same old crap designs are just not going to cut it when so many other cars, including Kias and Hyundais are miles better looking.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    The biggest problem for Lincoln is their customer base is literally dying off. Until they can build something that will bring some youth back into the showroom, sales will continue to shrink.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I’ll try my hand at marketing for Lincoln. Let’s target the following niches…

    “Regressive luxury” – cars using outdated platforms, inefficient thrashy V8s, mediocre interior room relative to exterior dimensions, American design touches like plastic chrome, and a soft ride that isn’t sophisticated enough to prevent crashing over potholes. I.e. Don’t change a thing.

    “Old geezer luxury” – we’ve discovered that people under 30 have less money than 60 and 70 year olds. We could start designing a car that appeals to youth, but then we’d have to compete against BMW, Audi, and even Lexus. We don’t have that kind of money to spend, and we can’t bother thinking 20 years from now. Fortunately, corporate history is behind us. I.e. Don’t change a thing.

    “Everything’s-a-brand luxury” – we want to be the next Apple and Google. We’re going to do it because they’re powerful brands, and Lincoln was a powerful brand. We were the number One brand in 1998, remember? The MKS is a brand. The MKZ is a brand. The MKT is a brand. Let’s start marketing our cars like soap, cleansers, and makeup. Never mind that a pallet of soap that sells for $2000 probably cost $100 to make and $1500 to market, we’ll make up for it in volume rather than increase profitability. I read somewhere that no car company can survive on less than 5 million units anyway. I.e. Don’t change a thing.

    That was easy. Where’s my bonus?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    As a 60 yr old, I suffer from Town Car envy A real car has RWD . Wrong wheel drive is fine for appliances. Not real cars

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    How about standard V8s across the line. No more V6s, and for goodness sake, PUT THE COYOTE 5.0 IN THE NAVIGATOR.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      With Cafe that will never happen. MB, BMW, Lexus, Audi, etc, all offer V6 options, and in fact the move has been to replace V8s with forced induction 6s.

      With the power of the EcoBoost 3.5, you don’t need a V8, though offering the 5.0 and 6.2 liter V8s in large SUVs makes some sense.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        @Nullo:

        MB, BMW, Lexus, and Audi also all offer vehicles with V8s, V10s, and V12s. Even Hyundai offers a V8 executive car now.

        With all of its current high-MPG stuff, I’m guessing Ford could survive the CAFE hit created by having a few V8 Lincolns.

        The output of the EB 3.5L might mean you don’t need a V8, but that doesn’t mean a certain type of luxury buyer won’t want the option. Why abandon that market? There is a reason Ford put the 5.0L under the Mustang’s hood instead of a blown 6.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        “MB, BMW, Lexus, Audi, etc, all offer V6s”

        Maybe that is the best reason Lincoln SHOULD be all V8, to be different and stand out from the pack, hasn’t that been their problem?

        Lack of recognition? The V8 is the symbol of everything that is RIGHT with American Luxury Cars, trying to be Lexus or BMW is NOT.

        Lincoln shouldn’t be best in class, they should CREATE the class.


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