MKNothing: Why Lincoln Ditched the Alphabet Soup

Matthew Guy
by Matthew Guy

The tens of readers who follow my bleatings here on TTAC (Hi, Dad!) may recall my fondness for the Lincoln brand. Having spent my own hard-earned Canadian dollars on two of them, plus encouraging other family members to do the same, I would be lying if I said I’m not rooting for the brand to once again plant its feet firmly in the minds of its target demographic.

For me, the disarmament campaign started when Lincoln began abandoning real names in favor of an alphanumeric (minus the numeric) naming scheme. Turns out, after reading a revealing Automotive News interview with Lincoln’s marketing chief, I’m not the only one who disliked it.

According to the report, Robert Parker, marketing honcho at Lincoln Motor Company, received validation for the decision to introduce the Nautilus nameplate well before its appearance at this year’s L.A. Auto Show.

In a fine bit of storytelling, Parker relates the tale of being on an airport shuttle ferrying passengers from a terminal to a parking lot. Seated near him was a husband and wife couple who were trying to tell the shuttle driver what kind of car they owned. You can probably guess where this tale is headed.

When asked what kind of car they owned, the couple got into a bit of a row. Why? They apparently owned a Lincoln, but couldn’t agree on what it was called. One insisted it was an MKC while the other was steadfast in their belief it was an MKZ. For Parker, this cemented the decision to abandon the MKWhatever nomenclature.

“It just really punctuated the challenge for me,” Parker said. “It was like, OK, it’s not just an internal discussion. This is real. People that don’t work and do this every day have a hard time with numbers and letters. We sometimes, as marketers, get a little too far over our skis.”

And there it is, folks. An admission from the top that the Lincoln three-letter system didn’t work. As a fan of the brand, I am very gratified to finally write those words.

The whole MK branding started in 2006 as an attempt to reference the brand’s past successes. Its first two letters were intended to be pronounced “Mark,” followed by the third consonant. This is why I always referred to ex-CEO Mark Fields as MKF.

Closing out the interview, Parker had one more gem to reveal, referencing Ford’s penchant for naming all cars with “F” monikers (Focus, Five Hundred, Fiesta, Fusion) while bestowing sport-utes with “E” labels (Explorer, Edge, Escape, Expedition, Excursion), and how that trend will not extend to Lincoln.

“That person’s retired,” Parker said, referring to a former executive. “We all loved him, but he was kind of stuck on E’s and F’s.”

I truly don’t think that exec was Alan Mulally, given that he wasted no time biffing the moronic and meaningless Five Hundred nameplate in favor of the Taurus badge. Throwing away all that name recognition, he argued, made no sense. He was correct.

Nor do I think that Mark Fields was the offender, because the time frames don’t quite align. No, I think the blame for all those E’s and F’s rests squarely at the feet of J Mays, designer extraordinaire who replaced Jack Telnack in ’97 and retired at the end of 2013.

Responsible for the ’05 Mustang, the GT, and the weirdo retro Thunderbird, Mays always seemed to be well liked in the industry and was certainly a skilled designer. He did, however, once command the designers at all of Ford’s marques to create car keys that reflected the “emotional qualities” of each brand. Fixating on alliteration wouldn’t be a bridge too far, methinks.

Anyways, I’m just glad Lincoln’s ditched the MK nonsense. Any wagers on what they’ll call the rest of their lineup? I’m jockeying for a return to Zephyr for the MKZ, Aviator for the MKC, and Quasimodo for the MKT.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Matthew Guy
Matthew Guy

Matthew buys, sells, fixes, & races cars. As a human index of auto & auction knowledge, he is fond of making money and offering loud opinions.

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  • Jthorner Jthorner on Dec 01, 2017

    It took too long, but finally! If you look at some of my TTAC comments from nearly a decade ago you will see me ranting about how stupid it was to give up names with heritage and emotion for a pseudo-European MK-blah code. The whole "Fords start with F..." nonsense was of that same era. Nasser was probably the worst CEO in modern Ford history, so let's blame him for it :).

  • Tankinbeans Tankinbeans on Dec 01, 2017

    I like the reintroduction of names with Lincoln, but the current scheme ceased to be a problem for me when I read a comment on this very site. MARK Zephyr (for the Fusion) MARK Truck (for the Flex Taurus based crossover) MARK Sedan (for the Taurus) MARK X (for the Edge based crossover) MARK LightTruck (for the short-lived Lincoln branded F-150) Then when the MKC joined the stable it wasn't too hard to put that in its place.

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