By on February 12, 2020

By the end of next year, Lincoln’s lineup will contain not a single passenger car. The decline of the Lincoln sedan has been well covered; you know all about the Fusion-based MKZ fading from the scene this year and the reborn Continental falling victim to declining sales, slated for execution sometime in 2021.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, and Lincoln’s national dealer council isn’t ready to say goodbye. However, the brand held up as an example of sedan success might not be a valid template for other automakers.

“The council continues to talk to the company about still needing to be in the sedan business,” said Tom Lynch, chairman of the Lincoln National Dealer Council, in a recent interview with Automotive News.

“You only have to look at Tesla. If you have a strong product, people are going to want it, and they’re going to want to buy it. What that looks like for Lincoln going forward, I’m not sure of.”

As general manager of a Lincoln dealer in Jacksonville, Florida, Lynch says a brand that abandons a segment that still makes up nearly a third of the American new-vehicle market forfeits any sales it might be able to draw from that pool.

“If we’re not in segments where there still is a good amount of business, I think the company and the dealers lose out,” he said. “So for all those reasons, council still feels like we need to be in the sedan business.”

The problem with the Tesla comparison is that Tesla is not a conventional automaker. While the Model 3 did dominate global EV sales in 2019, selling more than 300,000 examples (sales rose 14 percent in the U.S.), the car’s badge arguably has as much to do with its popularity as its emissions-free drivetrain. The most dogmatic of Tesla diehards see other automakers as insufficiently “pure,” as they still field gas-powered and SUVs alongside their EVs.

Only Tesla can lay claim to a 100-percent green automaker status (minus upstream emissions from manufacturing, power generation, and mining), and that remains a significant part of the brand’s appeal — along with CEO Elon Musk’s status as an industry disruptor and Silicon Valley rock star.

It can easily be argued that Model 3s are popular because they’re Tesla Model 3s. The Los Angeles Times did.

Lincoln has little trouble selling a gas-powered crossover or SUV, but it’s hard to envision a new electric sedan giving Tesla a run for its money. While the brand retains some cachet (Lincoln’s been working strenuously to return some lustre to the badge), it lacks both the mystique of the Palo Alto-based EV maker and the perceived virtue.

Whatever the solution is, the cynic in us sees Lynch’s concerns falling on deaf ears in Dearborn.

[Image: Lincoln]

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32 Comments on “Brand, or Body? Lincoln Dealer Council Still Warm on Sedans, Points to Tesla...”


  • avatar
    Rocket

    In addition to the pending Lincoln crossover, the Rivian platform would make a fine Lincoln flagship sedan. Assuming Rivian has plenty of capacity, Lincoln wouldn’t even need to concern themselves with finding a manufacturing site. Personally, I’d rather see a CD6-based A7 style liftback. The Aviator’s powertrains would be ideal in such a car. Sadly, I have no confidence Lincoln would even try such a thing, primarily because the volume would be too limited.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The reality is that most Continentals have livery plates on them. I’d love to know how many are driven by regular drivers. But what’s the alternative? Will livery drivers migrate to the Aviator? Following the original plan to migrate the Continental to the new Aviator/Explorer platform makes sense to me. They’d be able to charge probably $10k more than they do now, and possibly produce stretch models in house. Imagine a regular version for retail, and say 3 factory stretch models with popular livery features. I really don’t see a downside. Lincoln owns the market, why give it away?

  • avatar

    The definition of self-destruction is owning either a Buick or Lincoln dealership. I also should mention Cadillac is still outselling Lincoln by a 2 to 1 margin. I probably have seen only a half dozen new Lincoln SUV’s on the road this year.

    When the Hatchet-man is finally fired this year maybe the people running Lincoln will come to their senses.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    A compelling sedan will attract buyers and steal sales from others. Lincoln has finally hit upon its interiors and show what luxury should look like (and that means Cadihack ain’t it). There are those old school fools who opine about a lack of V-8’s and a lack of rear wheel drive, but the sooner that there is a recognition that we are no longer in the 1960’s, then serious luxury sedans can be built – and Genesis might be the builder of tomorrow’s real luxury cars.

    I hope Lincoln (and Ford) understand some people will buy a car – go for that market and do it with all the gusto you can muster. If you are unwilling to make a damned great product, then don’t attempt it.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Then explain how Genesis’s sales numbers have been utterly dismal.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        1. Dealership situation still in flux.
        2. G70’s rear too cramped
        3. G80 about to be replaced
        4. G90 about to be replaced by F/L
        5. No CUVs yet

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          none of those support the idea that a “compelling” sedan would be a good seller. We’ve been hearing since the inception of Genesis that they were going to make a huge dent in the luxury market, and all you’ve done is list a few “but, but, but” excuses. As if 2, 3, and 4 in your list are anything buyers would know or care about. and 5 just pretty much torpedoes the argument that they just need a “compelling” sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “A compelling sedan will attract buyers and steal sales from others”

      Which would be what? It is easy to vaguepost about “compelling” products. It is a lot harder to actually quantify them.

    • 0 avatar

      Continental does not look like luxury car. It looks like bloated FWD sedan, it is not as slick and well proportioned as Audi. Concept looked stunning but that did not translate into real car.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The only cosmetic differences between the concept and the production car are these:

        1) Concept had chrome rocker panel/fascia extensions and slightly different fascia designs
        2) Concept had 22″ wheels (similar to Black Label 21s)
        3) Concept had clear taillights
        4) Concept had tiny door mirrors
        5) Concept was slightly lowered

        That’s it.

        I’ll grant that the Black Label in dark colors, with the right lighting elements and wheels, looks a lot better than the cheap versions. But the idea that there’s a huge difference between the concept and production is hogwash.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I think a LWB Aviator with the Explorer’s 3.3L hybrid powertrain (rather than the mass overkill powertrain from the Aviator Grand Touring) is the right vehicle to sell to livery customers in place of the Continental. It would be comfortable, much more economical than a Navigator in the city, and still send the right image when painted black with plenty of shiny chrome trim.

    I really don’t see non-livery sedan customers sustaining a viable product. The Town Car customer base is dead. Lincoln is not competing with the E- or S-Classes anytime soon, or for that matter with the Model 3. Other customer bases are preferring CUVs these days.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Sedans? Just the Model 3 outsold all of Lincoln by 40% last year.

    Lincoln has bigger problems than just the lack of sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      not meaningful unless/until the Model 3 proves mass appeal outside of the Elon Musk Fan Club.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        People assume that Tesla buyers are automatically Tesla fanatics. No doubt some are, but I think most just buy a Tesla because it’s a damned cool car, and I’m one of them. I’m not in the Elon Musk Fan Club (though I respect what he and the company are trying to do), and would take a Model 3 in a heartbeat if they’d replace that silly non-dashboard.

  • avatar

    American cars including Lincoln faced the same problem as dinosaurs – not efficient enough to survive competition for resources when environment suddenly changed. Town car was rolling anachronism for how many years? And did Lincoln pay attention? Absolutely not. Ford did not care promoting European “jewels”. Lincoln like Cadillac owned the market for too long and American MBAs stayed in sleep mode for too long. Tesla is a new name and does not have that baggage of prehistoric car maker.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    If I wanted to put together a winning business plan for the future, I would *definitely* get the Lincoln Division (if that’s what they call it these days) and the Lincoln National Dealer Council together and do everything they said.

    [~112,000 U.S. sales in 2019 spread across ~8 models and ~850 dealerships… the average Lincoln dealership sells one unit of the average Lincoln model every ~22 days.]

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Start with the Mach E GT, give it more range, and a good looking sedan body and make the Black label trim level the standard. Call it a Continental. The effortless torque and quiet operation would be a good fit for the nameplate.

    Then take the Mustang, stretch the wheelbase (like the gen 1 Cougar) so that it has an actual back seat, give it a more formal roofline, install the 5.0 standard with the Aviator hybrid set up as an option. Give it a nice interior with a black label type optional (bonus points for affixing some designers name like the old Bill Blass to the optional interior). Affix Mark IX badges

    There, all fixed with products based on internal products that won’t canabalize sales of their platform are but won’t feel of badge engineering.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Sorry dealers…with Ford sedans to rebadge, you are not getting a sedan.

    You really have no case when you have to use Tesla as proof of something. The only thing Tesla is good for is providing the business world with examples of what not to do.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      The only thing Tesla is good for is providing the business world with examples of what not to do.”

      You’re really grasping.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “ You’re really grasping”

        Right. Because abysmal quality, relying on carbon credits as your main source of income, and building the appliances in a tent are hallmarks of a sound business.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          @EBFlex: The mfr building $60k cars in a tent is crushing Lincoln, and Lincoln acknowledges that. Seems like a win.

          You ignore the fact that the industrial tent is being used because demand is so high. Lincoln would love to have that problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Wasn’t the current Explorer/Avaitor platform built to underpin the next gen Mustang and a future Continental that got the axe in development?

      I think there would have been market for a slightly larger Mustang. Not sure there is at Lincoln prices though. Back in the day you’d have solved this by putting Cougar badges on it. Now they would probably solve it by just calling it the Mustang L or something.

      I do wish we’d get a Lincoln sedan and coupe based off the next gen Mustang though.

  • avatar
    Bill Jenkins

    So the Continental and Mustang are both made at the same plant. Why can’t they just build a Continental on a stretched Mustang chassis and make it coach (suicide) doors from scratch. That way you have a V8 RWD Continental with suicide doors. You can have an optional 3.0 TT V6. But almost all the development costs are already done. Makes sense to me.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I think when people look at large sedans they want AWD or RWD. It may not make sense, but that seems, to me, one of the biggest factors in what sells. I don’t think the Model S would have sold nearly as well as a FWD vehicle. The S is a handsome RWD or AWD luxury sedan. Audi is AWD. The Genesis family I don’t think has been pushed enough or has had the time to figure out how they want to do business.

    I hope the seats in the Lincoln were not the same as the Fusion. Those were some of the most uncomfortable seats I have spent a decent amount of time in, over 3000 miles. If they are that bad, nothing could have saved those sedans.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Time to play to your strengths, Ford. Give Lincoln a pickup truck again. (Mark LT did better than Blackwood – third time is the charm. See “King Ranch” and “Electric F-150” for clues.)

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Do you think there is any buyer that would buy a Lincoln pickup but would not buy an F-150 Limited?

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        “Any” buyer? Yes. Examples:
        – The 48-year-old fan of 50-year-old Matthew McConaughey who is not a fan of 63-year-old Bryan Cranston
        – The daughter of the Lincoln dealer principal
        – Adherents to The Lincoln Way – https://www.lincoln.com/why-lincoln/lincoln-way/

        If you want me to do more extensive market research, you need to pay me. :-)

  • avatar
    maynardGkeynes

    When I replace my 2010 Town Car this year, I’m not interested in an SUV. A lot of people like me still like sedans. The Mercedes S-Class is still selling well. I don’t want to spend that much, so I will probably go with a G90, but I would prefer an Aviator-based AWD sedan, as I still like the ride and feel of American cars. I really do think they should have continued the Town Car, perhaps under another name.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    It brings a tear to my eye to see a Mark IV waiting for the crusher.

    Over the past few weeks in the Rare Rides we have seen cars that passed for ‘luxury’ in Europe and Japan. They could not hold a candle to American land yachts. Even Malaise Era D3 luxury.

    Why doesn’t Ford/Lincoln use some sort of hybrid/electric technology to create a vehicle that is comparable to the Tesla in performance, superior in build quality, and that is as big and baroque as previous old school D3 luxury?

    Totally off topic, I would greatly appreciate if members of the B&B would send a little positive energy and/or prayers my way. After 62 years of clean living and exercise, I received rather serious medical news yesterday, and will need all the help I can get. Thanks.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The Continental is a sedan that I really wanted to like. They got the engines right for the most part. For 45k they were offering a 305 HP V6 as std. Meanwhile Cadillac had a 268 HP 2.0T 4 banger as std on there flagship CT6 all for 10K more!

    The interior of the Continental was also quite nice save for a few cheap hard plastic bits and those front seats are very comfortable if odd looking. But the fact this car was yet another Fusion FWD based sedan underneath and the styling made it a tough sell for me.
    And I never liked those door handles that were integrated into the window molding or the fact they were power operated. I actually looked over a brand new just delivered car in 2018 and was surprised to find that the driver’s door refused to close itself. The passenger door worked just fine powering into the closed position. The driver’s door meanwhile only went to the first click and then nothing! Yours for the jaw dropping sticker of 76K!

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