Few topics stir the blood of the Best&Brightest like the future of the Lincoln brand. Some of you agree with me that the company should build a new Continental. Others think that Ford should, as Michael Dell once famously stated of Apple in the pre-iMac era, sell the assets and distribute the money to the shareholders. Lincoln has platform problems, dealer problems, image problems, and competition problems — but the biggest problem Lincoln faces is its parent company’s current product line.
Ford built its business and its reputation on affordable product. Remember the Model T? What about the flathead V-8? Well into the Nineties, the company often sold the lowest-priced entries in any given market segment. The Ford of the past decade, however, has climbed steadily upmarket on a wave of Euro-style product, both in terms of price and consumer perception. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the new Mondeo/Fusion siblings.
The Fusion is expensive, complex, and remarkably stylish when compared to the rest of the family-sedan field. It also looks a fair bit like an Aston Martin, or at least what an Aston would look like were it inflated to a slightly higher pressure than recommended. While your humble author thinks the Lincoln MKZ has it beat for visual upscale-ness (upscality?) most of our readers disagree, preferring the Ford’s styling, interior materials, and overall packaging to those of its nominally superior platform mate.
This is a problem for the MKZ, but we live in a world where the Sloan Plan is long dead and artificial differences between brands from the same mother company won’t survive in the light of the competitive day. In other words, it doesn’t really matter if the Fusion impacts MKZ sales, as long as it impacts sales of the real competition by a greater amount. With the Fusion, Ford has a chance to stick its finger in the eye of its primary rival in the American market.
No, not Honda or Toyota. Don’t believe the hype. The crew at General Motors is still Ford’s closest competitor, and even if they’ve made it relatively easy for the Blue Oval to shine by contrast, they’re probably still the family of brands most often considered by those who eventually purchase Fords. Which leads to the question: If Ford is heading upscale and will eventually pass Lincoln, won’t the time eventually come when the Ford brand is in direct conflict with brands besides Chevrolet?
To some extent, it’s probably already happening. The Taurus Limited probably steals sales from the LaCrosse and vice versa. Surely the higher-end variants of the Ford trucks are shopped against the GMC Denali products. But what about Cadillac? Could Ford strike at Cadillac using its mainstream brand, not the currently aimless and product-starved Lincoln?
I’d suggest that it could, using one of its strongest models to attack one of Cadillac’s weakest. We’ve discussed the sales of Cadillac’s ELR “flagship” in the recent past, and although I’m not sure if the word “catastrophic” was used, it probably should have been. The ELR has a variety of problems, from its obvious affinity to the Chevrolet Volt to the bizarre bobtail styling that frankly makes some of us nostalgic for the slantback Seville, but it has one major strength. The ELR’s green credentials are unimpeachable. At some point in the near future, surely the self-consciously environmental among the nouveau riche will realize that it’s possible to get most of the Prius cred without having to drive a Prius. At that point, sales have to go up.
Ford has a chance to seize that ground for itself, and a Malaysian illustrator has already shown how:
That’s right: it’s a Mondeo/Fusion coupe. While it would certainly be possible to make a sleeker coupe, one that looked more obviously like an Aston Vantage, the bulbous look of this one kind of shouts “green”, doesn’t it? Isn’t it considerably more upscale-looking than the stunted ELR? Just imagine them parked next to each other. Which one looks like an expensive car? Which one looks like a premium product?
Alert readers will no doubt remember that Honda and Nissan currently offer mid-sized coupes, and that neither of those coupes have much pull above thirty grand or so. This is true, but that’s largely a function of how they’re configured and sold. The Fusion coupe, on the other hand, could and probably should be sold only as an Energi plug-in model, with every possible option, in a range of unique colors. A $39,999 single price point would split the difference between affordable and luxury, and it would be considerably less than even the actual transaction prices of the ELR. It might not even need to be called the Fusion Energi Coupe. It could be the Evos or the Fairlane or pretty much anything besides “Probe”.
Could Ford dealers handle selling a $39,999 luxury coupe? Well, they’re already selling $60,000 trucks and loaded Expeditions, so I’d suggest that it would be no problem whatsoever. The sales numbers wouldn’t have to be all that impressive to be useful; 90% of the car’s already paid for. The important thing is that it would give Ford’s more upscale customers a way to establish their green credentials and their luxury credentials at the same time. As long as the coupe isn’t available as anything but a plug-in, the message will be strong and clear. The advertising could even target the ELR directly, although Ford, unlike GM or even Jaguar, is too strong and smart lately to put their competitors in too much of the marketing material.
It’s hard to see how this strategy could go wrong. It’s a minimum cost for considerable reward and it would give Ford the chance to have what might be the first successful upscale-priced plug-in hybrid. The Aston similarity could be played-up a little further if the designers want to. There’s precedent, after all: the original idea for the Continental Mark III was “A Thunderbird with a Rolls-Royce grille on it.” A Mondeo with an Aston grille, stuffed full of batteries and sent out to hunt for Cadillac’s lifeblood? With a plan like that, who needs Lincoln anyway?