By on February 7, 2011

Ford’s been fixing Lincoln for so long now, it’s almost surprising that things on the dealership level are still so broken. But, as Ford told its dealers at last weekend’s NADA convention [via Automotive News [sub]], it’s time to put up or become a former Lincoln dealership. By the end of this year, every Lincoln dealer must comply with a few of Ford’s “more than reasonable” expectations, to wit:

  • Offering what Lincoln calls “owner privileges.” That includes providing a free car wash and loaner vehicle to owners who come in for service
  • Having a dedicated service manager and dedicated sales staff for Lincoln, Bokich said. That applies specifically to Lincoln dealers paired with Ford stores.
  • Having only the word “Lincoln” appear on all franchise signage, not Mercury. Ford discontinued the Mercury brand as of Dec. 31.
  • Having at least 30 percent of used-vehicle inventory be certified pre-owned vehicles.

You know, those do sound like reasonable standards for a luxury brand dealer network… and if a Lincoln dealer doesn’t like them, well, Ford is looking to trim the network by 100 stores or so anyway. Still, isn’t Lincoln’s problem pretty conclusively product-related? There’s no word from Ford’s boffins on that front, which means some dealers may be happy to leave the Mercury sign up and become one of those used car lots that still has an Oldsmobile sign up. Yes, Lincoln needs a top-notch dealer experience (and an own-brand sales manager to keep marks away from the Taurus) to make Lincoln viable, but demanding it without even hinting at future product is to ask Lincoln dealers to make an incredible leap of faith.

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30 Comments on “Lincoln’s Sputnik Moment...”


  • avatar
    gslippy

    demanding it without even hinting at future product is to ask Lincoln dealers to make an incredible leap of faith
     
    Not so sure about that; Ford’s not asking for much capital investment on the part of a Lincoln dealer, so their exposure is nothing like say, a Fiat dealer.  Being a new car dealer for any brand requires some leap of faith to begin with.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Yeah, that’s some *massive* capital investment Ford’s asking for:

      A car-wash machine, a new sign out front, and new stationery for the store.

      New business cards for 2 employees (the “Lincoln Sales Manager” & “Lincoln Sales” guy).

      And then they have the nerve to require that the biggest chunk of used cars be CPO FoMoCo product? Holy crap.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    A few things.
     
    First, with the job well done on the Ford brand, doing the right thing in getting rid of Mercury, etc., perhaps we need just have a bit of patience with Lincoln still?  Maybe some fantastic product is coming?  Maybe dealers are clued in more than the rest of us?  I don’t know.  Without any of my money in the game, I wouldn’t quite call BS on FMC quite yet.
     
    The rest of this, if they do want to be better than just OK, is basically a requirement at the luxury level.  I’m not too shocked by any of it.   Product is king, but I’ve known PLENTY of people who have made a purchase decision based heavily on how they were treated at the dealership.  Lexus has this one still wrapped up.

  • avatar
    jaje

    I agree with Ford here – Lincoln needs to have the image of premium so those dealers need to make that happen (it has to look, act that image).  2nd though is the harder part and where Lincoln still falls short…their products can not closely resemble the mass market brethren.  They need to follow in the footsteps of what GM has done with Cadillac and make them standout completely from its platform mate or on an entirely new platform altogether.  Acura also suffers from this lack of focus.

  • avatar

    With all the capital improvements made to Ford and better product coming off the lot, this is entirely reasonable. Looks more like Ford is ready to take the same energy and focus on the Lincoln brand and they want to make sure everyone is ready for it from the start.
    Looking forward to what comes next.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Is product really the problem?  The bulk of Lexus’s sales come from the RX and the ES.  The MKX and MKZ are definitely competitive with those products.  Sure, Ford needs to revise the styling of both products (especially the profiles) so they don’t look so much like the Edge and Fusion. So why aren’t they selling in the same numbers with far more dealers?  Part of the problem must lie in marketing.  Until recently, the only ads for Lincoln used grating 1980s tunes coupled with “hurry in now for an attractive lease rate, etc.”  Some kind of positive image for Lincoln needs to be carefully built for a targeted psychographic…then start selling. BTW, I just noticed the MKS outsold the GS last month despite lacking the allegedly-needed RWD. Not all is bad in Lincoln-land.

    • 0 avatar

      Until Lincolns stop using the same doors/roofs as Fords, the problem is definitely with the product. They still look like Fords, no matter how much grille/chrome you put on the fascias. You can’t expect people to jump ship from Lexus when they still make badge engineered Fords, even if it isn’t nearly as shameful as yesteryear’s Mark LT.
      Plus, its not that hard to option up a Taurus to cost more than a base MKZ. Wait…that is Ford’s problem, not Lincoln.  No matter, the Product is 800lb gorilla in the room.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Given current Lincoln sales numbers I have no idea how most of the stand alone Lincoln stores are going to survive. My guess is many will add other franchises hence the requirement for a dedicated Lincoln service manager. A stand alone Lincoln dealer today is literally between a rock and a hard place. There simply is not enough profit to be made from selling only Lincolns nor do these stores have the luxury of waiting for new product. They will be out of business before that happens.

    Whether you categorize it as product and/or marketing the fact of the matter is Lincoln does not compete in today’s luxury marketplace.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Sputnik moment? Is Lincoln the USSR or the US?

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    I remember that my old Lincoln dealer fell for the “We’re Rebuilding Lincoln” so you dealers need to spend $$$ during the Nasser era when the LS was suppose to lead Lincoln to the promise land.

    They originally had a modest stand alone LM dealership probably built in the 70s (BMW moved in and remodeled so it had good bones). They moved to a much larger property with a very nice building in the black/chrome motif (see photo) that LM just released at thet time. Millions of dollars had to have been spent.

    By 2005/6, they had shuttered the place with their Nissan dealership using the lot and service bays. They moved their former standalone LM shop into their existing Ford dealership.

    It sounds like they’re trying it again except without some bait like the LS to get the dealers to jump.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Before Ford gives up on Lincoln I’d like to see them go after the market that is not being well served now. I’m thinking of livery service, CEO transportation, executive shuttle service, funeral home hearses and family cars, and limousines for aristocrats and high-rank government leaders. What’s needed is a sleek, plush, high-roofed big-windowed car with a huge back seat area people crave to occupy, and formal, dignified styling. Ideally, there should be enough rear legroom to allow for jump seats for secretaries, security staff or whatever. The roof should be much higher than a conventional sedan — dignitaries and the rich and famous don’t want to have their pictures taken while wriggling into a low-slung car. Advanced engineering, fuel economy, fast acceleration and nimble handling aren’t important, but a smooth, silent ride is critical.
     
    I think Ford could produce such a vehicle at a reasonable cost by modifying the Flex or Expedition. Or it might be more affordable to use a third-party source such as the kind of firm that has been transforming Town Cars and Cadillac DTS sedans into hearses.
     

  • avatar
    gottacook

    As noted above by getacargetacheck, the market-niche aspect is central. That is, even if it has competitive products to sell, Lincoln won’t succeed unless it develops a brand image as strong as that of Lexus and other marques that generally sell vehicles in the $30K to $60K range.
     
    Several commenters to last week’s Lincoln-related post raised the idea that the Lincoln name itself is simply too ancient. This might be better stated as: “Lincoln” is unsalvageable as a basis for a strong, competitive, new brand identity. With the present line of product, Lincoln will have a very difficult time competing, and its dealers must know it.
     
    I recognize that the Cadillac name is equally ancient, yet GM (several regimes ago) managed to get the reinvention of Cadillac right. Whether or not you like any of the current Cadillacs, you have to admire the talent that went into that effort. If GM had waited to do so – if they’d initiated plans for the renewed Cadillac line in ~2005 instead of ~1996 – it might have been too late to make a difference, and it might be too late for Lincoln as well.
     
    I once read that GM had considered using the then-new Oldsmobile Aurora of some 20 years ago as the basis for relaunching Oldsmobile as the Aurora marque, jettisoning the old name. I wonder if that division would still be around if they’d done so.

  • avatar
    mjz

    I can’t see Lincoln surviving as a North American-only luxury brand. They simply won’t have the economies of scale that other global luxury brands enjoy. I can’t see Ford investing billions of dollars in the Lincoln brand unless it can market the cars around the world. China anyone?

  • avatar
    william442

    Several years ago, for some reason I received a “VIP” invitation to visit the local Lincoln dealer. When I arrived they were giving away toasters, and no one had the time to even talk to me. Needless to say…

  • avatar
    mjz

    gottacook: Continental was actually a separate brand from Lincoln at one time. Perhaps that would be a good brand name to use that would have the possibility of creating a global luxury brand for Ford.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    I’m officially starting the 15 minute clock on the phrase “Sputnik moment”.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    Lincoln product?
    How about a Mustang based, slightly stretched 4-door sports car. Replace the live axle w/ IRS, include the EcoB 3.5 and the 5.0, and, viola! A car Lincoln can be proud of. Next, come out with a 2-seater coupe/vert. But not like the big land-yacht the last T-Bird was. I’m thinking sized somewhere between MB’s SLK and SL. Again, start with the Mustang platform, but chop off the rear seat length, throw in the IRS, and make the engines the 3.7 and Ecoboost 3.5.
    Finally, get rid of the g**d*** alphanumerics! This is the first line of cars where I have to think carefully before stating model names, because I get them all confused. I really, honestly don’t know which is which. MKZ/MKS/MKX/MK huh?

    • 0 avatar
      seanx37

      Isn’t that just the Aussie model Falcon? But yes, that is one thing they actually need. A CTS competitor. With more head, shoulder and leg room than a CTS. I always feel cramped in them. And lighter than the bloated CTS as well.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I want a Lincoln.
    It is a big black sleek cruiser with an oversized engine.
    It has an interior that belongs in a presidential suite of a hotel.
    It is a car made for riding and being seen in.
    It has suicide doors.
    I has a standing hood ornament.
    It is a car for men who want to look successful, stable and rock solid.

    It is almost gauche, but the quality in detailing stands out. It is a little too shiny, a little too much chrome, a little too much of everything. It is second helpings of Thanksgiving Dinner. Owning one should bug your conscience until it rolls down the street devouring everything before it.

    It should be the SUV/CUV sedan equivalent of a Honda or a Toyota.
    It should look like it could be a lead car in a parade.
    It should have dark tinted rear door windows and a small backlight.
    It should look like it smells of leather, cigars, and expensive cologne.
    It should look like a small presidential limousine for regular well-off buyers.
    It should look like it could be carrying a celebrity.
    It should have too many LED lights sequentially signalling turns, marking fenders, lighting rooflines, and lighting ground entries.

    It should have a window separating the driver from the riders. There should be folding foot rests, DVD entertainment center, tissue dispenser, vanity mirrors and folks looking into the back seat should be opened mouthed when they see it.

    It is a car you want to ride in the backseat of, and look forward to having someone chauffeur you around in.

    I know what a Lincoln is supposed to be.
    And I think Ford also knows what it is supposed to be.
    But there are conditions preventing Ford from making a real Lincoln. Perhaps they imagined a Mercedes, or a Lexus. Maybe they are imagining a Cadillac STS or a Jaguar.

    But I want a Lincoln, not an American Lexus.
    I want a car I’d be willing to purchase used because I could only afford one that way. And I’d know that the quality of the car was so high, I know I would still love having a used Lincoln.

    If I was a Ford, I would have made the current lineup of Lincolns, Mercurys.
    And I would make a single Lincoln that turned heads with the designs I listed above.

    A Lincoln is supposed to be a rolling man cave.
    In this day and age of losing what used to be a man’s world, a Lincoln should be the luxury auto equivalent of a barber shop, a men’s only country club, and a cigar bar.

    Look at how pick ups are sold. They are sold as man caves too. Their popularity is partly to do with being a man who can lift heavy items, make stuff out of wood, steel and dirt, tow lesser vehicles out of the elements, and do a man’s job.

    A Lincoln is supposed to be for a man who hires guys in pick up trucks and gives them a paycheck.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      That sounds great, but what you’re describing is a Duesenberg. Can anyone make money building and selling Duesenbergs anymore?

    • 0 avatar
      K5ING

      I agree and summarize by saying that it should be a car that heads-of-state would be proud to be seen in.  Do an armored version as long as they are at it.  Position it where Bentley or the Maybach is only lower priced.  Ford could even take a page from the “The Beast” and build it on a truck chassis (not as big as the Top Kick however).  How about taking the Excursion and giving it a car body?
       

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      I know you want a big, long black one – but why does it have to be black? You went black and can’t go back?

      Anyhow, the current Rolls has suicide rears, just like Lincoln copied for their iconic Continental. I see no reason why Ford can’t go back to the well and recopy the Rolls again.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      Neither you, not anybody else who agrees with you is likely to actually buy the car that you describe. I think that the nostalgia market is already saturated by the new-age pony cars. Wouldn’t it be great if all the women looked like Marilyn Monroe…

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Minus the divider, I’m with ya.  Sounds like the kind of car I’d be proud to have sitting in the garage under a car cover when I pass on to will to my heirs. 

  • avatar
    Zackman

    A Lincoln should be just two models: A Continental and either a Town Car or a personal luxury Mark. Sell them as halo vehicles for Ford, in a sectioned-off area of the dealership. Maybe Lincoln has enough life for only one vehicle, which makes things easier. Let’s face it, most of the classic American nameplates have disappeared and more are going to, it’s just a matter of time. Why? Globalization. Period. They already have the Panther platform. Instead of tossing it, continue to use it for these vehicles. Since Ford will no longer have a Panther with its name, it’s perfect for a Lincoln. Product separation and uniqueness. If Lincoln does die, what of Ford? Who will they merge with? Same for GM. Combine Ford and GM into a single entity on the order of Kia/Hyundai. Lee Iacocca advocated a Ford-Chrysler merger 30 years ago. We all see more consolidation coming, it’s just a question of who will/won’t survive. National pride? Forget about it. VanillaDude: Love what you wrote! Fantastic!

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      GM would never merge with Ford. And there’s no need to – both companies are doing just fine (more-or-less) as-is. Plus, they hate each other.

      Chrysler, already merged with Fiat, so they’re off the market.

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    If Lincoln does die, what of Ford? Who will they merge with?

    Huh???  So, you are suggesting that Ford cannot survive the death of it’s American-only luxury nameplate which accounts for less than 1% of its total worldwide sales and probably less in profits?  That faulty thinking is what got Ford in trouble with the Premier Automotive Group.  Ford nor any other car maker needs a luxury brand to thrive and remain independent.  If anything, it’s the other way around.  Daimler needs mass market Renault-Nissan, etc.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Ford’s been fixing Lincoln for so long now
     
    I guess…if by “fixing” you mean making Lincoln the most incompetent, mediocre luxury brand the world has ever seen.  Face it…all Ford has done for Lincoln in the past 15 years is take a Ford appliance, scrape off the blue oval, slap on a Lincoln sticker, and paint the center stack silver which ultimately makes Lincoln nothing buy a trim level on a lowly Ford.
     
    And what Ford is doing with demanding Lincoln dealers to upgrade their facilities is illegal.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      Nope, not illegal, the dealers are franchises. They have to meet certain requirements to keep the franchise. Although why anyone would want a lincoln or Mercury stand-alone is a mystery. Silvy you get the stopped clock award today.

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