Big, Plush, Profitable: Like It's 1998, Americans Actually Want Lincoln Continentals Again

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
big plush profitable like it s 1998 americans actually want lincoln continentals

There remains a select group of American car buyers who are actually buyers of cars. In fact, there are still American car buyers who want American cars. Indeed, there are still a number of American car buyers who want American luxury cars.

As an example, consider the all-new Lincoln Continental.

It’s not a hot seller — at least not in the conventional sense of the word. The new Lincoln Continental isn’t topping the sales charts. Indeed, given the fact, in November, the Continental was America’s 17th-best-selling premium brand car, it may not even be a warm seller.

But there are a couple of indicators that suggest the 2017 Lincoln Continental is over-performing; that it’s exceeding Ford Motor Company’s expectations. That’s not bad news for America’s remaining handful of American luxury car aficionados, especially with the measure of success being enjoyed by a cross-town Continental rival.

The Ford Motor Company’s replacement for the Lincoln MKS bears the name of a sedan that was dead for 13 years. Use of the Continental nameplate isn’t the only way in which Lincoln is reaching back. Unlike the prevailing mindset among luxury automakers, Lincoln was determined not to build a BMW chaser.

The Continental is Lincoln’s take on traditional American luxury — use of an old name serves to amplify that effort. Remember, when Lincoln was last America’s top-selling luxury brand in 1998, the brand was hardly an American version of BMW.

Ford began selling the new Lincoln Continental in September, reporting 775 sales. Despite a temporary plant shutdown at the Continental’s factory caused by excessive Ford Mustang supply, Ford nevertheless reported 1,222 Continental sales in October. November Continental sales jumped to 1,419 units.

But those admittedly mediocre numbers (the Mercedes-Benz E-Class sold roughly three times more often; the Volvo S90 sold less than half as often) don’t tell the whole story. These are early days, and Continentals aren’t enjoying extended stays in Lincoln showrooms.


Continentals are sitting at dealers for only 13 days. As a result, Ford sales analyst Erich Merkle says, “We’re going to be working very hard to fill out dealer lots and keep up with demand.”

As for the Continental’s ability to exceed Ford’s expectations, “We’re very impressed,” Merkle says. But the real reason the Continental has Ford excited isn’t the sales achievement itself. The Continental isn’t going to run up the score like an F-150. “But over half the sales are Reserve and Black Label,” Merkle told TTAC last week.

Continental pricing starts at $45,485 and rises to $48,440 with its Select trim. But the two higher trim levels, the $54,840 Reserve and $63,840 Black Label, are in another league, both in terms of cost — and more pertinently — profit potential for Ford.

That’s not to say Ford is getting those prices. Though incentives for the Continental are at a segment low, the average incentive spend for the big Lincoln stood at $5,125 in November 2016, according to J.D. Power PIN data.

As a percentage of the average transaction price, that 9.3-percent discount was also the lowest in the segment. For a new model, the discount seems hefty. But consider the $9,656 average incentive spend on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which also wears new sheetmetal, to get a clearer idea of the way the luxury sector rolls.


Cadillac likewise discounts the new CT6, a more upmarket sedan, with big dollars in order to move the big flagship sedan out of showrooms. The same data shows average CT6 discounts at $7,662 per vehicle, or 11.7 percent of the average transaction price. U.S. CT6 sales fell to a four-month low of 1,169 units in November, the first month in which the Lincoln Continental found more buyers than the CT6.

The CT6 is part of a lineup that’s achieving record transaction prices in Cadillac showrooms. At roughly $56,000 per vehicle last month, Cadillac’s November ATP was higher than ever.

CT6 MSRPs start at $54,490, 20-percent higher than the base price of the new Continental. This loftier price point — pricing for the CT6 stretches up to $88,490 before options on the AWD Platinum 3.0T — means the CT6 overlaps both the aforementioned Mercedes-Benz E-Class and its larger S-Class sibling.


Last month, the still-surging Continental accounted for 35 percent of Lincoln’s 4,049 sedan sales; 15 percent of the brand’s total 9,429-unit output. Total Lincoln sales were up 19 percent — subtract full-size sedans from the equation and Lincoln was up 7 percent.

At Cadillac, where total volume is more than half again as strong, the CT6 pulled in 18 percent of Cadillac’s 6,359 car buyers and accounted for 10 percent of Cadillac’s 15,326 (up 15 percent) total sales.

Cars aren’t dead. American luxury isn’t dead. And if America can’t maintain American luxury automobile health, China will.

With a month remaining on the calendar, Cadillac sales for the first time soared past the 100,000-unit marker in China in November. China now accounts for 38 percent of Cadillac’s global volume, up from 29 percent just last year.

Thus far, Lincoln is a much smaller player in China; Ford didn’t seize upon the opportunity nearly as quickly as General Motors. But the Chinese market is nevertheless the target market for the Lincoln brand. Through the first three-quarters of 2016, Lincoln sales had nearly tripled, year-over-year, to 21,000 units.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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  • Donnyindelaware Donnyindelaware on Dec 11, 2016

    Now if only Sergio would give us a New Yorker or Imperial for Chrysler.

    • Whatnext Whatnext on Dec 12, 2016

      Restyle the sheet metal on the Challenger and bring it to market as the Imperial.

  • Koreancowboy Koreancowboy on Dec 12, 2016

    I'm a two-time Lincoln (and five-time Cadillac) owner. I gave up on them when they did away with the Town Car (I had a 95 and 01). After checking out the new Continental at the Texas State Fair: 1) It's worlds better than the Conti that I sold (early Naughts) 2) Lincoln is back 3) It's good enough for me to consider when I go to get my next DD in a couple of years

  • Dukeisduke In an ideal world, cars would be inspected in the way the MoT in the UK does it, or the TÜV in Germany. But realistically, a lot of people can't afford to keep their cars to such a high standard since they need them for work, and widespread public transit isn't a thing here.I would like the inspections to stick around (I've lived in Texas all my life, and annual inspections have always been a thing), but there's so much cheating going on (and more and more people don't bother to get their cars inspected or registration renewed), so without rigorous enforcement (which is basically a cop noticing your windshield sticker is out of date, or pulling you over for an equipment violation), there's no real point anymore.
  • Zipper69 Arriving in Florida from Europe and finding ZERO inspection procedures I envisioned roads crawling with wrecks held together with baling wire, duct tape and prayer.Such proved NOT to be the case, plenty of 20-30 year old cars and trucks around but clearly "unsafe at any speed" vehicles are few and far between.Could this be because the median age here is 95, so a lot of low mileage vehicles keep entering the market as the owners expire?
  • Zipper69 At the heart of GM’s resistance to improving the safety of its fuel systems was a cost benefit analysis done by Edward Ivey which concluded that it was not cost effective for GM to spend more than $2.20 per vehicle to prevent a fire death. When deposed about his cost benefit analysis, Mr. Ivey was asked whether he could identify a more hazardous location for the fuel tank on a GM pickup than outside the frame. Mr. Ivey responded, “Well yes…You could put in on the front bumper.”
  • 28-Cars-Later I'll offer this, offer a registration for limited use and exempt it from all inspection. The Commonwealth of GFY for the most part is Dante's Inferno for the auto enthusiast however they oddly will allow an antique registration with limited use and complete exemption from their administrative stupidity but it must be 25 years old (which ironically are the cars which probably should be inspected). Given the dystopia being built around us, it should be fairly simply to set a mileage limitation and enforce a mileage check then bin the rest of it if one agrees to the terms of the registration. For the most part odometer data started being stored in the ECU after OBDII, so it should be plug and play to do such a thing - this is literally what they are doing now for their emissions chicanery.
  • Probert For around $15 you can have a professional check important safety areas - seems like a bargain. It pointed to a rear brake problem on my motorcycle. It has probably saved a lot of lives. But, like going to a dentist, no-one could say it is something they look forward to. (Well maybe a few - it takes all kinds...)