It’s your boy, JB. You know, the guy who isn’t allowed on your press trips any more. I’m not sure exactly why. It has something to do with me supposedly misusing one of your complimentary hotel rooms as a place to do something besides examine the press kit. I don’t know why it’s a big deal. You’re acting like I put on a satin “dragon suit”, performed immoral deeds using a mudshark, and/or threw a TV out the window. That didn’t happen. I specifically left my satin dragon suit at home that weekend so I can say for sure that it didn’t happen. Maybe that wasn’t it at all. I don’t know. We don’t need to discuss it now. Just censure me and move on.
Plus, it isn’t like you guys haven’t made mistakes yourselves, and more recently, too. I mean, Jimmy Fallon? Curating Tweets? CURATING TWEETS? JIMMY FALLON “CURATING” TWEETS? I need you to stop reading this letter right now so you can go home, cut out a section of your garden hose and savagely beat whoever came up with that idea until they can’t walk any more. Wait. Make that “type”. Can’t type any more. That’s especially important. Because I think that idea probably originated with them typing an e-mail to someone, and until that can’t happen again none of us are safe.
You’re back? Yeah, it feels gooood to really hurt someone like that, doesn’t it? That’s our little secret. Now let’s talk about The Lincoln Motor Company for a minute, okay?
Everybody’s on your case right now. Heck, even the guys at Jalopnik took time off from pimping the Chevy Sonic to get all edgy and harsh and use the f-word and stuff about your “new direction”. I’ll sum up most of the criticism in a few bullet points so you don’t have to read anything but this fantastic website right here.
- Your whole lineup is apparently made up of rebadged Fords. Well, re-body-paneled Fords. With different interiors. That don’t look much like the Fords they’re based on. But the problem is that there’s a Ford under there, as opposed to the 1961 Continental, which wasn’t a Ford at all, other than the fact that it was engineered and styled with the express mission of becoming a Thunderbird and only wound up on the Lincoln side about two minutes before it would have been too late to make the change. I’m going to write “MKTaurus” here because I feel very smart when I do that.
- The Ford brand is premium enough already, maybe more so than Lincoln. Well, that’s what you get for not having Daewoo do all your compacts or doing three years of “Red Tag Sales”. That’s your own fault. Sit there and think about what you’ve done.
- You need to make premium RWD mid-size sedans like the Cadillac CTS. Especially the CTS-V. Nobody’s buying them but I want you to know that I am totally going to buy a CTS-V once they’ve been on the used market a couple of years and I finish my Associates’ degree in Business Manipulation from the University of Phoenix.
- FWD is totally lame sauce and the only reason the Lexus ES350 and RX350 sell in soul-crushingly massive quantities is because they aren’t really FWD. They’re totally RWD. The GS350, which has never been seen on the road by anyone, is really FWD. So stop using FWD.
- Your cars are extremely ugly compared to the aforementioned ES350, the new BMW F-something 3-something, and the ATS, all of which look like unique varieties of underwater fish. Except for the ATS, which looks like the old CTS.
- You discontinued the Town Car. Really, that was stupid. If I had the power to do so, I would probably have all of you killed for that. My 2009 Town Car has 89,900 trouble-free miles on it, enduring some of the most shocking abuse you can imagine. Not just from me, although I’ve managed to get all four wheels off the ground while jumping train tracks. My son, too. He spills milk all over the back seat and has been known to get a little queasy while we’re jumping train tracks. I have no idea why you would can one of the most recognized automobiles in the world — a car that traces its direct lineage right back to that hallowed Elwood Engel Continental — and replace it with…
Enough griping. I don’t think the situation is as bad as everyone says it is. You’ve done a lot of things right. To begin with, you’ve completely ignored the “enthusiast” press and structured your product line around FWD and AWD mid-sizers. Good for you. That’s where most of the volume is. There are already three players in the segment making fake BMWs: Cadillac, Infiniti, and, ah, BMW. By going in the other direction, you get to face Audi, Acura, and Lexus.
Against that trio, I like your product. No, I really do. The MKZ is very pretty and it looks like nothing else out there. The MKtauruS (see what I did there) is actually one of my favorite cars in the whole world. It’s fast enough, it’s super-comfy, it has radar cruise control, and it has a great sound system. If you could take four vertical inches out of the doors it would be the sexiest car in the segment. The MKX is popular with the ladies. The MKT is another one of my favorites, and I love the way the rear hatch gives props to the old Fox Continental. I’m the only one who feels that way, however, so at some point you might have to let that car go.
The competition doesn’t offer anything more for the same money. Most of their customers would be just as happy with one of your products, if they had a chance to get acquainted with them on neutral ground. I know that’s why you are trying the “Lincoln Motor Company” schtick, complete with free gifts and faux-upscale this and fake-luxury that and the Ritz-Carlton and who knows what else. You want people to have a positive enough image of Lincoln to come into the showrooms and get acquainted with the cars. You’re not wrong in wanting to do that, and some of the “concierge” ideas and whatnot are amusing enough.
But none of it will work.
You aren’t stupid. You know it won’t work. You just need to be seen doing something until… what? A resurgence in the American economy, a rising tide to lift a half-million Ford owners into the Lincoln showroom? A catastrophic weakening of the American dollar that somehow doesn’t affect your mostly Mexican-and-Canadian-built product line but makes an Ohio-assembled Acura TL as expensive as a 240D was in 1984, relatively speaking? Another Audi unintended-acceleration scandal? A war with Japan over some islands? None of that stuff is really going to happen. You’re just killing time and wasting money.
The saddest part of all this is that you know what you need to do, don’t you? Yes you do. Can I just show you something real quick-like? Thanks.
What is that? Don’t answer. Let me tell you what it is. Or rather, what it was. It was:
- A loss leader
- A marketing tool
- A great way to build a brand
- Not really ever sold for $35,000, anywhere, even though the ad said $35,000 for a cloth-seat stripper that existed primarily in someone’s imagination
- A product that sold a million front-wheel-drive Camry variants for five grand more than they would have cost at the Toyota dealer
Think about that. A million Lexus ES automobiles at a five-grand markup. They say the LS400 cost a billion dollars to develop. Well, any time you can invest a billion dollars and get five billion back, you made money. That doesn’t even count the RX350, which sells for five or ten grand more than a Highlander Limited Super Bongo Fun Time Gold Edition. How much money has Lexus made Toyota as a global organization? Enough to justify the expense of the original LS dozens of times over.
Bloomberg says you are making a billion dollar bet on Lincoln. Starting with ten million dollars or more for a Super Bowl ad. So the money is there to fix the brand. It’s just being spent on junk. Garbage. You-know-what. Marketing. Just stop it. Stop it stop it stop it.
Take your money and make something. Don’t make a “brand”. Don’t make a “plan”. Make a car. Write a check and build something that will make Americans talk about Lincoln again. They don’t have to buy it. It doesn’t have to be a success. It just needs to change your image. Don’t think CTS-V. That only changed the image of Cadillac among bored teenagers and Internet forum warriors. Think Chrysler 300. That changed Chrysler’s image with people who, you know, buy Chryslers and stuff.
History has given you a gift. Lexus had to copy the S-Class down to the width of the C-pillars in order to sell the LS400, because they had no past whatsoever. Cadillac has had to do this whole wedgy F-117 crap because the Fifties and Sixties Cadillacs people remember and love couldn’t be reissued in anything even vaguely resembling their glory. Tailfins and Dagmars won’t play in Safety First America. But you… you have the 1961 Continental. You can make that car again, and you can do it with more fidelity than you could for the 2005 retro Mustang. The front end is tall and blunt — pedestrian safety! The packaging works with modern expectations — the Charger has a long trunk and nobody complains. The car itself isn’t so huge that you’d have to squish it. Make it the same size as a Mercedes S-Class.
This is a product which should already be in your lineup as a successor to the Panther, selling for $60,000 and using the Coyote V-8. The old Town Car should have been redone from the ground up some time before 2010 and we all know it. Since you didn’t do it then, you have to do it now. Spend a billion dollars, or more, on the car.
Make sure it has suicide doors. Make sure it has chrome trim on the inside and black leather. Make sure it looks elegant and vicious and don’t cut corners on it. It should exude menace in dark colors and sunny Camelot optimism in pastels. Then announce that it’s going to cost some nice round number like $100,000 and that each Lincoln dealer will get five of them. Don’t run ads, don’t Tweet about it, don’t involve Jimmy Fallon. The celebrities and the athletes and the pop stars will come to you if it’s a real Lincoln Continental, and they’ll pay real money to be the first ones on the block with one.
The rest of America will come to your newly revised dealerships to see the cars and they will drive home in a Lincoln MKZ or whatever you have on the floor to sell them. It will be the most expensive marketing campaign in history but unlike a Super Bowl ad or a free night in a Ritz-Carlton it will change the way people view the brand. Obviously you have to call it the Continental. Not MK-anything. Not Mark Nine. The Lincoln Continental, from The Lincoln Motor Company.
It could fail. That’s a real possibility. You could release the car on the day the stock market collapses or the day that China seizes the West Coast using paramilitary forces. Or it could simply be too late to save the brand. But make no mistake. If you fail by building the best American luxury car in history, that’s a hell of a way to fail. That’s the right way to fail. That’s the American way to fail. But if you fail because you waste money on “branding” and garbage, you’ll have done more than failed. You’ll have ruined a great American brand. And there aren’t that many of them left, so they’re important, and we should save them, even if we need to be brave in order to do so. Tell Jimmy Fallon to put that in his Twitter feed and curate it.