I was listening to a local radio station and as will happen in a regular Detroit newscast, they mentioned something newsworthy going on in the domestic auto industry. In this case they said that Ford would be spending $1 billion on 7 new products to revamp the Lincoln brand. Well that wasn’t really news so I wondered what really was going on and it turns out that the radio station’s news team grabbed a headline from an Alisa Priddle article at the Detroit News. Though the headline was nothing new, Priddle has interviewed Ford designers and product managers and has managed to give us a better idea of what the Lincoln brand will mean once Lincoln’s new team of 120 or so engineers, designers and marketing experts gets done reinventing the marque.
The seven cars will be new versions of the MKS, MKZ, MKX, MKT and Navigator as well as the luxury C class compact that Lincoln has already greenlighted. That leaves one more car, I’m guessing something sporty as opposed to a flagship. Ford simply doesn’t have any platforms suitable for a flagship beyond the MKS and since a billion dollars will really only get you one completely new car these days, I doubt Ford would develop a dedicated platform for what would be a low volume car. Also, from the tea leaves Priddle has uncovered, it looks like sporty would fit the proposed brand better.
Two of the new Lincoln brand signifiers will be fully retractable glass roofs and plus ca change pushbutton gear selectors. We’ve seen glass roofs on Lincoln concepts like the MKR, and after BMW and Jaguar have introduced trick gear selectors, why not pushbuttons? Pushbutton transmissions were the rage in the late 1950s, most notably on Mopar products but also offered on Edsels. So there is some Ford history with the concept. Derrick Kuzak, product development chief for Lincoln says that using buttons to select gears electronically will free up space in the center stack and console. They didn’t have center stacks in 1958, but the Edsels’ gear selecting pushbuttons were mounted in the steering wheel hub, which I’m sure saved space on the dashboard.
In terms of driving characteristics, Kuzak said that Ford was trying for a unique spot in the luxury market, making cars and crossovers as responsive to drive as a BMW but as comfortable as a Lexus. I think that’s a good idea in terms of brand identity, sports luxury, but I would have rather Kuzak said that Lincolns will handle better than BMWs and be more comfortable than Lexi. Benchmarks should be exceeded, not just matched.
Some of those 120 or so people on the Lincoln team are powertrain engineers. Since Ford’s not going to give Lincoln any new engines, one of their jobs will be giving Lincoln engines and transmissions unique control mapping as well as giving the brand a distinct exhaust note. All the new Lincolns will be available in all wheel drive versions and 8 speed automatic transmissions will be standard (to Ford’s six speed unites). The AWD news means that we most likely won’t see a RWD Mustang based Lincoln and Ford seems to be dedicated to the EcoBoost V6s so I don’t expect any V8 powered Lincolns. Active noise control will used to further distinguish Lincolns from Fords (and from competitors) and Lincolns will come with electronically controlled suspensions. No word if, like Ferrari, they will be licensing magnetorheological shock absorbers from GM/Delphi.
Kuzak also said that Lincoln will have technologies unique to the brand, though he did mention that the young and progressive luxury customers the company was seeking want their tech to be “intuitive and useful” while not turning off older traditional Lincoln customers. I believe that’s a way of saying that if MyLincoln Touch has features unavailable in MyFord Touch, it will be a bit more user friendly than the current iteration. I expect that some of that new technology will be located in the space freed up by the pushbutton transmissions.
Add up all the features that Kuzak said the new Lincolns will have and I think that while BMW and Lexus were mentioned as possible benchmarks, Lincolns real role model and possible competitive target is Audi. Think about it. Technologically advanced all wheel drive vehicles that are luxurious and still drivers’ cars. I don’t know if Lincoln’s suspension tuners can get Ford platforms to simultaneously handle as well as a Audi and ride as smoothly as a Lincoln of yore, but if they can, I think there will be a market for their cars.