By on September 4, 2019

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My father has historically been a Ford man. Despite numerous forays into Chevrolet, Chrysler, Volkswagen and Toyota, he has always returned to the Blue Oval when the time came to purchase a keeper. Other nameplates came and went, receiving slightly less attention, but there was always at least one well-maintained Ford in the garage. As a result, I became familiar with dealerships using the suffix “Ford Lincoln Mercury” at a very young age.

For me, it was an opportunity to ogle the fancier sedans my father claimed didn’t make financial sense. “It’s the same car,” he would always say. “This one just costs more.”

When you’re eight and have nothing to distract yourself with other than the swizzle sticks you stole from the coffee area, fatherly advice has a way of sinking in. I’ve often wondered why automakers would even dare place their premium offerings so close to their less-expensive models. But times have changed. 

It’s much harder to accuse Lincoln of providing badge-engineered models these days. Even if vehicles do share the same bones, Ford’s luxury arm is doing more to ensure its offerings are no longer “the same car” for more money. It’s trying to temp customers with more tech, power, and lavishness. This is a decided effort on the part of the manufacturer, as Ford is not interested in the possibility of Lincoln following Mercury into the automotive hereafter.

Unfortunately, finding the correct balance has been difficult. Ten years ago, Lincoln was circling the drain. Domestic deliveries were at an all-time low and market share had been dwindling for some time. Back then, the brand was taking a page out of Cadillac’s book and pushing alphanumeric models like the MKZ, MKS, and MKX as the new hotness. But it wasn’t working — sales stabilized but the brand continued losing its share of the market for a few more years.

With things finally starting to improve, even though 2018 could have been better, Lincoln has attempted to take stock of what works. Clever marketing has assuredly improved the brand’s image but we’d argue that it’s the much-improved designs that are making the most difference. Ford’s luxury division seems set on setting itself apart, something the manufacture has attempted to replicate in the showroom.

While this has manifested into a few isolated boutiques serving as tasteful lounges intended to intrigue the right sort of shopper, Ford is also interested in having dealerships establish standalone Lincoln stores. Known as the “Lincoln Commitment Program,the idea stalled in December after blowback from dealers concerned that the cost of modifying their stores wouldn’t be offset by luxury sales.

Ford has since reintroduced the idea with some alterations designed to make it more palatable. According to Automotive News, brand executives, working closely with the Lincoln National Dealer Council, have made the program more flexible, offering participating dealers a choice on how big a showroom they’re allowed to build. They’ve also abandoned affixing store size to market location and softened the margin withheld from dealerships who don’t separate Lincoln and Ford zones by 20 percent.

From Automotive News:

The brand is asking dealers to build showrooms that adhere to its new design theme known as Vitrine, a French word for a glass display case. The exterior of each store is defined by floor-to-ceiling glass windows that illuminate the vehicles inside at night.

Dealers have the option to build a two-vehicle boutique or a four- or six-vehicle showroom. Even the smallest boutique will cost millions of dollars, according to a source with knowledge of the requirements.

The brand also pushed back deadlines for dealers. The retailers have through January to decide whether to enroll in the program and until July 2022 to build the stores. The initial plan called for stores to be completed by July 2021.

According to a memo to dealers viewed by Automotive News, Lincoln is asking for a $20,000 enrollment deposit by Feb. 1 that will be reimbursed once the project is certified.

Dealers can also earn margins of up to 2.75 percent per vehicle sold if they adopt the new layout. While that’s less than Ford’s original offer of 3.5 percent (which the California dealer association opposed), stores can also earn payments tied to client experiences in addition to those awarded for the new facilities. Initially, that offer was reserved for retailers in the top 30 U.S. luxury markets. But it has now expanded to locations outside those regions, assuming they’re willing to physically separate the brands.

“I think Lincoln went a long way toward doing something that was fair to the dealer body across the board,” Tom Lynch, general manager of North Florida Lincoln in Jacksonville, Florida, told Automotive News. “I think they came out with something even better.”

Better for the dealer network, perhaps. But truly better for the brand and its customers? Lincoln says yes. Six dealerships have already opened new-and-improved Vitrine showrooms and the automaker anticipates ten more opening within the next year. It also claims that standalone Lincoln stores tend to fare much better in terms of sales, even those established before the new program’s conception.

“We value our dealers’ inputs and over the past several months we have listened and made a number of changes to the Lincoln Commitment Program that are reflective of their feedback,” Lincoln President Joy Falotico said in a statement. “We are now moving forward with the program and remain committed to brand-exclusive facilities as it is key to our brand transformation by addressing the needs of luxury clients.”

This brings us back to my father. Over the last eighteen months, he’s casually discussed the prospect of purchasing his very first SUV. Knowing he’ll eventually walk into a Ford dealership, I repeatedly asked him to at least examine what Lincoln had on offer — wondering if he might be happier in a Nautilus. He reported back to me over the weekend that he went with a Ford Explorer with a handful of options.

I asked him what he thought of Lincoln’s lineup. The answer? He said it was the best he’s seen in years, “But Ford was still literally offering me more car for less money,” he explained. “Besides, you know me. I’m a Ford guy.”

My late grandfather, a lifelong GM loyalist, former employee and Buick fanatic, did something nearly identical a decade earlier while cross shopping Cadillac. “I just didn’t see much sense in it,” was the reason given for his not treating himself to a Caddy.

While anecdotal evidence usually isn’t the best foundation to build a future upon, it certainly plays into Lincoln’s current strategy on this occasion. Men like my father and grandfather probably cannot be swayed by the glitz and glamor of a premium badge, even if that automaker is trying to make said badge mean something again. If that’s to be the case, perhaps it’s in Ford’s best interest to physically separate its marques — as there may be less customer overlap than previously assumed.

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

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40 Comments on “Changing Trajectory: In Giving Lincoln Its Own Space, Can Ford Combat the Wandering Eye?...”

  • avatar

    How interesting. So Lincoln still exists!

  • avatar

    It wouldn’t bother me to buy a Lincoln out of a Ford dealership, I know what they are and it’s the new Lincolns that finally look like something other then a fancy Ford that did the trick. I do understand Ford’s position if you’re going to continue to move the Lincoln brand upward they’re going to have to have their own space and higher level of service otherwise it will always be just a fancy Ford

  • avatar

    Separate dealerships sure worked out great for Hummer and Fiat, so Lincoln can no doubt expect similar success.

  • avatar

    The dealership experience can make all the difference in the world. A friend of mine was in the market for his first luxury level car. He walked into a local Cadillac dealer that has a good reputation, walked around the showroom, sat in several cars, and promptly left after NO ONE APPROACHED HIM OR ACKNOWLEDGED HIM!

    Here was a guy who really needed a new car immediately, had the $$$’s to buy, and was COMPLETELY IGNORED. He went to a Lexus dealership next, where they practically kissed his ass when he walked in. He left in a new Lexus and is now on his 3rd car from that dealer. He says they treat him like a king even when he goes in for service. This is the kind of dealership experience Lincoln needs to duplicate.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      On the other hand, a lot of car buyers don’t don’t like being swarmed by “vulture” sales types as soon as they walk into a dealership. It’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Myself, I don’t need a dealer to kiss my butt. Just be honest, give me a fair price on the car and do good work in the service department. But that’s just me.

      • 0 avatar

        “On the other hand, a lot of car buyers don’t don’t like being swarmed by “vulture” sales types as soon as they walk into a dealership.”

        It isn’t some magic trick to greet a customer and let them know you’d be happy to answer any questions they might have. This is not a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Anybody who expects they can wander through a privately owned showroom without anyone inquiring as to their purpose is insane and any salesman who thinks that people need to give them more than one no answer before they give a potential customer some space is a fool.

        • 0 avatar

          For once I agree with you, a customer should always be acknowledged and then allowed to look for a bit before offering further assistance

        • 0 avatar

          “It isn’t some magic trick to greet a customer and let them know you’d be happy to answer any questions they might have. ”

          But it is darned near as rare as magic, to find a salesguy who is _able_ to answer pretty much any question the kind of customer who is active on internet enthusiast boards, might have…..

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with Todd. Ignoring someone is bad customer service. A polite greeting and stating that you’ll be available if there are any questions is not a “vulture” tactic.

        • 0 avatar

          This. Let the customer know you appreciate him or her coming in, see if there are any questions you can answer. If the customer doesn’t seem to want you around, back off. Easy enough.

          But simply not acknowledging someone is an unforgivable sin made even more unforgivable if the customer’s shopping for a $60,000 car.

    • 0 avatar

      This is the kind of problem that a new all glass showroom won’t solve. IDK what it takes to motivate sales staff, but I too have gone into showrooms (with wife in tow, to buy minivan) and been completely ignored by sales staff. We also “voted with our feet” and promptly went elsewhere. We have, however, also received great service from other non-luxury dealerships. It’s really hard to get good employees in many areas.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s remarkable how often I’ll be ignored when I go inside a showroom intending to talk to someone about a vehicle, but if I’m out perusing the lot without any real purpose, without fail someone will come up, introduce themselves, and have a hard time taking no for an answer.

        • 0 avatar

          Some places have a central reception area where you “register” to see a salesperson, which works for me. If you want help, you ask for it. But just being ignored doesn’t work for me.

    • 0 avatar

      The dealership experience will absolutely have an impact on Lincoln’s long term viability as a “premium brand”.

      I know of three people who purchased a Genesis in the past few years, seeing it as an excellent value play compared to a comparable BMW or Merc. The less-than-stellar service experiences has all of them headed back to the German brands as their leases run out. Say what you will about BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, but the vast majority of their dealers take good care of you and provide a great deal of convenience.

      Genesis/Hyundai have yet to put that into wide practice.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve yet to see a standalone Genesis dealer (at least in my area, anyway). Has anyone?

        • 0 avatar
          R Henry

          Hmmm…tough to define “stand alone.” A Genesis dealer just opened in my tony SoCal burb…it is on the same property as the Rolls/Bentley dealer, the pre-owned exotics dealer, and the Maserati place. Is that “stand alone?”

      • 0 avatar

        The sales and service experience from H/K/G dealers is probably the biggest issue facing the company right now.

      • 0 avatar

        There are only a few stand-alone Genesis stores presently (switched over from another brand).

        In about 18-24 months time, there should be more Genesis stores added (new builds) as by then, the Genesis lineup will be reinforced by the GV80 and GV70 CUVs, as well as the new G80 and facelifted G90.

        But simply having a new/separate store is not a guarantee of good service.

        A lot of that has to go w/ the overall mindset of the ownership group.

        There are ownerships groups (owning multiple brands) where their mainstream brands treat their customers well (albeit, not to the level of the lux brand under their umbrella).

        And there are ownership groups where they tend to do shady things, whether you visit one of their lux stores or one of their mainstream brand stores.

    • 0 avatar

      I will tell you one thing. The Toyota and Honda dealership experience sucks in California. Same in Boston. The service, the sales … it sucks. But the products are good, so people put up with it and buy them.

    • 0 avatar

      I love these apocryphal stories about how people are “ready to buy” but are seemingly ignored and walk away mad, go to a Lexus dealer, buy the most expensive car they have on the lot and live happily ever after…

      It sounds like to me they wanted a Lexus in the first place.

      This seems like a strange reason to buy a car, to teach the Lincoln/Cadillac/Benz dealer “a lesson”…

      Like others posted, I want a fair deal and competent service when needed. Otherwise, if the staff is friendly, great. Hopefully the coffee is good too.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. People who would go from hot to completely cold on a car based on how quickly they were approached after walking into a dealership strike me as people who don’t care about cars very much, and are more interested in just being pampered in a fancy shop. Who the hell cares? I’m not there to buy the dealership, and I’m not there to make friends with the sales person. We’re not going to hangout on weekends.

        If after driving a ton of cars I’ve decided than an Audi A6 is the one, I’m going to buy that car. I don’t care how big of a smile and how firm a handshake I get from the guy at Audi Beaverton.

        • 0 avatar

          What else is there to care about? Who has the least obtusely designed infotainment system? As a former A6 and A7 driver, the idea that anybody buys them because of how much they care about cars is to laugh. Current luxury cars are a rehash of what Detroit was peddling in the late ’50s: gadget-laden, leaden driving, over-powered tacky barges sold on planned obsolescence. They’d better come with good cappuccinos and obsequious sales staffs. Otherwise you might as well get something designed to be worth more than half what you paid in three years.

      • 0 avatar

        Sorry to disappoint you but this was not an “apocryphal” tale. My friend was truly “ready to buy” as his DD had conked out, and he needed a car immediately. He WAS ignored at the Cadillac dealership. He did not “go away mad”, he left disappointed that he was treated with such indifference. He did NOT “buy the most expensive car they had on the lot” nor has he lived “happily ever after”. He bought a Lexus ES350 and has bought two more since then, primarily because he was treated the way he expected to be treated with the purchase of a luxury good. He went to the Lexus dealership next because in his mind that was the next logical place to go. He is an older “non-car guy” and in his mind Cadillac was the first logical place to stop for his first luxury car experience. When that failed, he chose the next on his mental list, which was Lexus.

        You added a lot of hyperbole to my story, and your interpretation is not factual.

  • avatar

    On the other hand what the Ford shoppers who might upgrade to a Lincoln?

  • avatar

    Ford has one of the best large pickup truck lines, the F150, a very nice SUV offering, the 2020 Explorer … finally competitive, and a decent mid size truck, the Ranger. The rest of their product line is not great. Lincoln is dead. I hope they fix this. I remember when most Ford products were competitive … they were the best selling brand in California. Now, the are third in California, Toyota and Honda are way ahead. Something has gone wrong in the glass house. GM and Chrysler are able to crank out competitive vehicles. Ford, you need to take a look at your product planning managers … something is not working out. Replace them with hires from Toyota and Honda … that can’t be that hard to do. Must be the corporate politics that stop them from getting the clowns out of there. Good Luck.

  • avatar

    The numbers are interesting. From what I can find let’s say there are about 500 Lincoln dealers across the country. On average each one sells about 200 new cars a year. Let’s say the ATP is $50K, so each dealership is doing about $10M/yr in revenue? That 2.75% margin hold back is worth about $275K- hardly enough to warrant spending *million$* on renovations for.

    That said FoMoCo definitely needs to do something about the Lincoln dealership network. I recently took my wife’s MKX in for a repair to a local Ford shop… nothing screams “luxury dealership experience” like utility boomer trucks in the service bays and a customer service desk in what felt like a warehouse. There has to be a way to better leverage existing Ford dealerships without spending millions of dollars.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s how how it works, tho.

      200 out of the 500 Lincoln dealerships (those in or around the major urban markets) likely do the bulk of Lincoln sales.

      In the case of Cadillac, about 400 smaller Cadillac srores (usually affixed to a Chevy store) sell 50 or fewer vehicles a year (just 9% of Cadillac sales).

      The problem, however, w/ those major urban markets is that real estate costs are prohibitively high (in places like NYC, Boston, DC, Bay area, LA, etc.) – so even the large volume dealerships may be hesitant.

  • avatar

    For roughly a year I worked for a GM dealer as a salesperson. I started out at the Buick/Cadillac dealership and then made a move to Chevy. I remember being startled at the car ignorance of my fellow salespeople – they could have been selling widgets anywhere and from what I could tell didn’t really sell “cars” – they sold “numbers”. To them it was all about the payment and while up-selling was the name of the game, the “experience” begot by the customer was the same whether they were selling a worn out used car with 300K on the odometer or a new Cadillac. NONE of them read any car magazines like Motor Trend, and they made fun of me for quoting Consumer Reports to them and to customers. For the time I worked in the various dealerships I was the top sales guy – something I accomplished by largely ignoring my DEMANDING sales managers determined to “play the numbers game” with every customer – they called it “enhancing the buying experience” – the idea being that a hard-won deal on a car would make the customer feel better about the outcome. I thought (and think) that is utter bullshit – and I told my customers that – explaining that they would have to jump through a number of hoops but I would eventually get them down to $X – and it worked. Of course, I would have been fired, or at least screamed at, had any of that gotten back to the sales managers. At the time GM was going through its bankruptcy and demanding change from the dealerships, but what I saw was a 1950s business model that they were DEEPLY COMMITTED TO KEEPING, regardless of the info people came in with from doing Internet research. Eventho I was the top guy, and loved selling, I eventually got out because I couldn’t deal with the stress caused by the dealership’s tactics – for anyone who’s ever gone into a dealer and come out EXHAUSTED by the experience, let me tell you – it’s no joy being the one in the middle. The other thing that was startling to me were the histories of my sales colleagues – MANY of them had been in jail at some point and selling cars was something that didn’t conflict with their shady pasts. So . . . it’s not JUST “getting decent people” that is the problem – it starts at the top, with many dealers entrenched in the past and not wanting to step into present – and I think the American brands are probably the worst offenders. I hope that Lincoln can make this work, but it will involved a change of mindset for many dealers that couldn’t come fast enough.

  • avatar

    lose the egg crate, Denali wanna be grill.

    Aviner tried it and failed.

    you must have some designer somewhere with imagination.


  • avatar

    And it only took Ford 50 years to figure it out.

    But not quite. They’ll pull back again soon, like they always done once the bean counters start clutching their pearls.

  • avatar

    Car dealers are awesome and the dealer model is awesome and customers are thrilled beyond belief in every interaction with those awesome awesome dealers.


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