Ford Styling Chief: Lincoln "Not True Luxury"

TTAC Staff
by TTAC Staff
ford styling chief lincoln not true luxury

In remarks with the Detroit News’ Karl Henkel, J Mays, Ford’s chief stylist and a senior vice president of the automaker, acknowledged that the Dearborn automaker’s Lincoln brand has lost cachet as a luxury brand and that it will take years to turn the brand around.

“No, we’re not true luxury. We’re in an investment stage with Lincoln. We’ve probably got a 10-year investment to make.”

Analysts echoed Mays’ remarks. Michelle Krebs at Edmunds called Lincoln “a wanna-be luxury brand”. Jim Hall, of 2953 Analytics put Lincoln’s situation in the context of how the concept of luxury has changed. “Most luxury brands today aren’t luxury brands,” Hall said. “They’ve become luxury-branded products. Many are thinking of luxury as a series of checklists, but the traditional definition of luxury has a degree of exclusivity.”

Since just about every “luxury” feature, like leather seats and high end infotainment systems, can be ordered on mass-market vehicles, Hall said that selling “luxury” cars has become a bit like selling smartphones. “There’s nothing you can do to a smartphone to make it luxurious except glitz it up, but that’s styling and branding, not luxury.”

Hall said that with every manufacturer offering effectively the same features on cars in every segment, it has become harder for premium brands to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Mays concurred and said that Lincoln has a “whole list of things” that will make them stand out in the crowded luxury market. “Every brand needs to have a DNA and a unique selling point and things in the vehicle that make you think, ‘That’s that particular brand,’” May said. He indicated that the new MKZ’s upgraded interior gives some idea of the direction that Lincoln will take.

With a new name, Lincoln Motor Co., and new product (the MKZ is the first of four new vehicles that Lincoln will be introducing in the near future) Ford is trying to reinvent the company founded by Henry Leland after he left Cadillac, which he also started from the assets of Henry Ford’s failed second car company. While Lincoln is targeting younger affluent buyers and having some success on the west coast, it is from the far east that Lincoln hope to significantly grow its brand. The company is preparing to launch Lincoln in China next year.

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  • Halftruth Halftruth on Aug 29, 2013

    Everyone screams "unique platform" "exclusivity" and dealer stores that should be separate and unique from the mother ship brand. No one here would buy that car as it would be well north of the 40-50 grand premium price range. If you want true luxury, pay the fee and you will get it. Cadillac and Lincoln are not those brands anymore. Haven't been for decades. Like a poster said above, they are premium brands (and there is nothing wrong with that). Mays' comment isn't all doom and gloom, if you ask me. You don't see Rolls/Bentley/Jag offering four bangers and hybrids. Their customers do not want them as they can afford what they want. Different ballgame, different players.

  • Dimwit Dimwit on Aug 29, 2013

    What people in this thread are doing is confusing luxury with aspirational. Aspirational branding can mean luxury but doesn't have to. Saab and Subaru were both aspirational, buying that brand means you are now members of a club that you want to belong in. Lincoln and Caddy were aspirational for decades. Their cars were always best in class; most powerful, best features, highest engineering standards of all the divisions, unique styling. Yes it meant that they were expensive but that wasn't the point. By the malaise era it got lost. Too much sharing, not enough differentiation to justify the price and keep creating that brand cachet that means exclusive. GM realized they royally screwed up and have tried hard to regain it through their Arts & Science designs and unique engines. Unfortunately that backfired when "lesser" engines from corporate GM were better. Still, it's not over for Caddy just tough. Lincoln OTOH, is lost. What needs to happen is the exec need to involve the Fords. They need to pick a direction, define a feature list and have the Fords buy into it. The reason for that is to make sure that the message stays on target over generations of the C-Suite. My picks would be RWD platform and V8's. Go back to the HotRod Lincoln era. Powerful, luxurious and different from every other division in the company. Plus your major competitors are moving away from it. Bonus! It also means that you're going against the masses and it will take years of hard work and losses to get traction. That's why the Fords have to buy in and keep the message on target.

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