Ford Can Sell Expensive Pickups As Long as They Aren't Lincolns (Except in Mexico) – the Blackwood and Mark LT
GMC just announced an Ultimate trim level for the Sierra pickup truck. That follows Ford’s success with Platinum-level F-150s that can cost up to $80,000. It seems that nowadays you can’t charge too much money for an American pickup or make it so luxurious that it won’t find an eager market.
It’s tempting to say that wasn’t the case in the early Noughts as a means to explain the failure of the Lincoln Blackwood. In production for barely a year, the Blackwood was the automotive equivalent of a TV sitcom getting cancelled after just the first episode. Ford hoped to sell 10,000 Blackwoods a year, but managed to move only 3,356 for its entire production run.
The truth is that Ford and GM were selling plenty of luxury trucks in late 2001 when the Blackwood hit dealers — though they were SUVs, not pickups. The Lincoln Navigator, a badge-engineered Ford Expedition that was essentially an enclosed F-150, sold pretty well at about 30,000 trucks in ’02. So did the Cadillac Escalade, selling over 36,000 units that year. Even the Escalade EXT, Cadillac’s version of Chevy’s Avalanche, a crew cab pickup with a short, pass-through bed, sold over 13,000 units in 2002.
So why did the Blackwood fail in the market?
To begin with, it wasn’t a very good pickup truck because it didn’t really have a bed. Instead, it was festooned with a carpeted trunk, lined with brushed aluminum and covered with a hydraulically actuated tonneau cover. Though it was relatively large for a trunk, it was small for a truck bed. You wouldn’t want to carry anything that could damage the trim. Instead, it seemed to have been designed more for tailgating than carrying cargo. Or showing it off at car shows; it’s somewhat reminiscent of how high end customs and hot rods might have their trunks finished.
The truck, though I’m not sure Lincoln ever used the T word (they called it a “luxury utility vehicle”), also didn’t have a conventional tailgate but instead had two small “Dutch” doors that swung open. Reducing its practicality further, the Blackwood was only available in two-wheel drive.
If you couldn’t drive it to your cabin up north and you couldn’t use it to pick up some lumber at Home Depot, for what could you use it? That question was obviously asked by potential consumers, and answered with “not a thing.”
The 1999 concept had real African wenge wood. The production Blackwood had “photo laminate”.
The EXT might have had a short bed, like the Blackwood, but it was a real pickup bed. The pass-through opening that allowed long objects to reach into the cabin made the EXT even more practical.
Besides practicality, or rather a lack thereof, there was also the question of the Blackwood’s aesthetics — or at least how the aesthetics were implemented.
The Blackwood first appeared as a concept in 1999. At the reveal, Ford’s styling chief at the time, J. Mays, said the “really interesting” part of the concept was the bed/trunk on which exterior panels were covered with 20 square feet of black African wenge wood panels separated by 4 mm wide brushed aluminum trim strips. That black wood was the source of the Blackwood’s name. While the brushed aluminum made it to production, the wenge wood veneer was replaced with a “photo laminate” film. It’s not the worst fake wood ever used in the auto industry — but with a sticker price of $52,000 (about $69,000 in 2015 dollars), some thought it looked cheap.
The interior was more or less shared with the Navigator, with the addition of wenge wood accents. Two bucket seats replaced the rear bench seat found in F-150 crew cab trucks, further reducing practicality.
The Blackwood only came in black, like the Model T did for many years, and the only option was the addition of a navigation system.
Another factor affecting sales was that the Blackwood arrived late to dealers. Supplier Magna Steyr had trouble making the cargo box.
Pay no attention to the reflection of the fat man with a camera.
That the Blackwood went on sale just weeks after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when there was much uncertainty, probably affected sales of the Blackwood. It’s about as superfluous a vehicle as has ever been sold and, in any case, consumers were not exactly in a buying mood with NYC still smoldering. If you remember, to help get car sales moving again, General Motors offered a 0% financing plan called “Keep America Rolling”.
Production of the Lincoln Blackwood ended in December 2002. In 2005, Ford took another swing at the general concept and introduced the Lincoln Mark LT as a 2006 model. Essentially a badge-engineered F-150, this time Ford gave the Lincoln an actual bed and tailgate and optional four-wheel drive. Unlike the Blackwood, buyers could also order the options and colors they wanted. It was more successful than the Blackwood, hitting that 10,000 unit mark the first year — even outselling the Escalade EXT. The EXT, however, would gain on the Mark LT and, in 2008, the Mark LT was discontinued in the U.S. market and replaced in FoMoCo’s production planning by the aforementioned Platinum trim line for the F-150.
So maybe the problem with Lincoln pickup trucks is the Lincoln brand. Maybe Ford can’t sell Lincoln pickups — at least in this country.
In Mexico, the notion of a Lincoln pickup first caught on with the Blackwood, which continued on sale in that country into 2003. The F-150 got its twelfth generation in 2009 and there weren’t plans to make a second-generation Mark LT. That is until Mexican dealers reported that the original Mark LT was the best-selling Lincoln in Mexico. As a result, the Mexican market got an all-new Mark LT for the 2010 model year. That market specific model stayed in production until 2014.
As you may know, the 2015 model year saw the F-150 move to an all-aluminum body. With relatively limited sales in only one market, the cost associated with making an aluminum Mark LT means it’s not going to happen. Actually, it wasn’t going to happen in any case because of the success of the F-150 Platinum. That probably has a larger profit margin than a new Mark LT would have anyhow.
Now I don’t know about the Mark LT, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that the Blackwood will be collectible. The single model year will guarantee that. The fact that it is equipped as a luxury vehicle will also help. At the Ford Product Development Center Employee’s Car Show this past summer, there were two Blackwoods. There was also a Mark LT of some sort in the PDC parking lot wearing manufacturer’s license plates — and a Blue Oval on the tailgate covered up with tape.
The full photo gallery of the Lincoln Blackwood can be seen here.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, a
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