Lincoln’s Future: Is There One?

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Back in the mid-’90s, Lincoln was riding high. Ford’s primo brand was actually outselling GM’s Cadillac division, which at the time was purveyor of stolid starter caskets to the AARP crowd. It was Lincoln that birthed the idea of taking a big SUV from the lower-key Ford line, chroming everything that wasn’t plastic and then reselling it as a kind of 4×4 McMansion to go into the garages of actual McMansions.

You know, the Navigator.

On the strength of this monster hit, Lincoln became A Number One, the Duke of New York (and the rest of America, too).

Then… nothing.

Well, nothing but miscues and debacles like the Blackwood, Aviator and Mark LT.

Lincoln built lemons – while Cadillac built a better Navigator out of the Chevy Tahoe – and then upped the ante by revamping its entire passenger car lineup to appeal to people who have not fallen and can’t get up.

Now Cadillac is A Number One.

But Lincoln is apparently not croaked yet. At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally announced a $1 billion commitment to Lincoln’s revival, and showed the press a new concept car that bears the “DNA” of seven soon-to-be-here Lincoln models, the first reportedly based on the show car and scheduled for production circa 2014.

That’s good to hear – but unfortunately, the new car has an old name: MKZ.

There is already an MKZ in Lincoln showrooms and the problem is it’s not leaving Lincoln showrooms. At least, nowhere near enough of them are leaving showrooms. In 2011, about 27,529 MKZs found buyers.

Total Lincoln production for the year – that is, all of Lincoln’s current models combined – added up to just 85,643 units.

It’s a small number in such a big market

Part of the reason why is the current MKZ is too obviously a Ford Fusion with a higher price tag. A much higher price tag. $34k to start vs. about $20k to start for the mere Ford. Just as the current MKS is a tarted-up Taurus. And the MKX is a not-well-disguised Ford Edge.

Cadillac, meanwhile, went clean sheet and renamed its new models – none of which (other than the Escalade SUV) shared any “DNA” with mere Chevys. For whatever reason, the public accepts badge-engineered big SUVs like the Tahoe-Suburban based Escalade (and the Expedition-Navigator, which Lincoln of course still sells). But when it comes to cars, not so much.

Cadillac tried badge-engineering at a distance by smuggling in a rebadged European GM (Opel), the Catera –   calling it the “Caddy that zigs.”

Except it didn’t sell.

It was only when Cadillac brought out all-new (and Cadillac-exclusive) models like the CTS that the joint really began to jump.

Can Lincoln turn things around?

Time will tell, of course – but it’s not going to be easy or inexpensive. The lux market is even more competitive now than it was in the ’90s – when the big-name Japanese players were still second-tier players.

The MKZ show car has presence. It looks the part.

It reminds me of the last Lincoln car I had any interest in – the ’80s-era Mark VII. That car was a looker and a runner.

And so, it sold.

Then Lincoln screwed the pooch with the Mark VIII – a bathtub-looking oddity that never caught on and which ended up killing off what had been a very successful franchise. Arguably, Lincoln’s demise as a premium car brand can be traced back to the disastrous redesign of the Mark series – which ended with the cancellation of the slow-selling Mark VIII after a mediocre five-year run in 1998. Lincoln never recovered its mojo and other than the Navigator blip, it’s been a slow-slide into also-ran status for Ford’s once-proud luxury nameplate.

So, here’s to hoping the 2014 MKS is more than a really nice next gen Fusion.

And maybe change the name, too.

Throw it in the Woods?




  1. I grew up in a lee marvin world and now I’m living in an elton john world …. cheap electronic gadgets and touchscreens are supposed to impress me, but I wamt RWD reliability / serviceability without the planned obsolescence the engineer toward. If they want me to buy new, get away from building unreliable crap.

  2. I find it interesting that no one has mentioned that Lincoln does not manufacture a rear wheel drive sedan since the death of the Town Car.

    I laughed when my ex boss came in with a 2007 MKZ, which was and is nothing more than a gussied up front wheel drive Fusion.

    If Lincoln is to survive, it needs to come up with something original, but more importantly, make it RWD! We need more RWD choices on the market. The Lincoln LS was an excellent RWD choice in a not-so crowded market. If Ford had invested in that instead of developing their current Lincoln monstrosities, they would be going toe to toe with Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes and Cadillac.

    • I agree completely on the badge-engineering but not so much on the RWD.

      Much as I personally prefer RWD, Acura has shown it is possible to be a successful luxury brand without RWD. And don’t forget that the best-selling Lexus (the ES350) is FWD.

      The real issue, I submit, is what you said: Current Lincolns are too-obviously recycled Fords.

      That said, if I were The Decider at Lincoln, I might try a strategy that doesn’t me-too everyone else (which seems to be what they are planning). The market is saturated with “luxury-sport” sedans. Doesn’t need another. Why not build what no one builds anymore? I mean, big, traditional, comfortable and soft luxury cars? Like the Town Car in general concept but with much better interior materials, trim and so on?

      And, keep the price reasonable. Offer a car that’s bigger and posher – and more comfortable – than a Benz S-Class for $35k or so. In other words, a nice big car for the average middle-class American. As it is, only the very affluent can afford to buy a big car. That sucks. Lincoln could fix it.

      Screw the absurd fixation on how fast it can lap The Ring; no 20 inch wheels. No 400 hp engine, either. Just a big, high-torque mill that’s super quiet and gets the job done.

      I dunno… might could work…

      • I’m sorry I doubted you Eric. I could not believe the ES350 was FWD; I googled it. “Oh ye of little faith!”

        My humblest apologies.

        God how I hate FWD. It is an abomination. An abomination to drive. An abomination to service. An abomination to maintain. Its noxious stench offends my nostrils with its noisome effluvium.

  3. If I were in charge of Lincoln I would move towards models that were as unique as Lincoln models of the past. Does not have to be retro styling but something that doesn’t require looking for a badge or a grill to see it is a Lincoln.

    I think the Mark VIII flopped because it was a corporate attempt to recapture the magic of the Mark VII. A completely re-bodied 2015 mustang with it’s own interior would be a good model to have. Rework the suspension to be a bit more tuned for comfort but leave the rest of the technical bits alone except maybe to increase power. Offer the MT. That would capture what made the mark VII.

    A real continental or something like that is a must. A true flagship model. Maybe not over the top like ’56 but there needs to be something.

    • “A completely re-bodied 2015 mustang with it’s own interior would be a good model to have. Rework the suspension to be a bit more tuned for comfort but leave the rest of the technical bits alone except maybe to increase power.”

      Great idea. I’d love to see that. Would probably want to buy one.

      • I remember driving it. It was better in one respect than the Mark VII (I owned an ’87 Mark VII LSC for a while): The Mark VIII had a lot more power. The Mark VII had the same basic engine as an ’80s-era Mustang GT – the 5.0 liter OHV V-8, rated (IIRC) at 200 hp, so slightly detuned from the GT’s 210-220 (again, IIRC). It was also teamed up with a not-aggressive automatic transmission and mild gearing out back. It was quick for the ’80s, but by the ’90s, on the slower side. The Mark VIII got the DOHC 4.6 and 280 hp, which made a big difference. I test drove one circa 1994 – and got it well over 130 MPH and still pulling hard. My Mark VII couldn’t touch that.

        But the Mark VII looked so much better.

        On the air suspension: Mark VIIs had that, too. My ’87 LSC had an air bag at each corner. When one went south, the car became a low-rider. And you don’t even want to hear about the cost to fix…

  4. By now, it’s crystal clear that badge engineering is the kiss of death. Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Mercury, and Pontiac are cases in point.

    Lincoln’s salvation lies in developing new models that share little or no DNA with Fords, comparing the Navigator and Escalades and making the Navigator strong where the Escalade is weak, focusing on “old school luxury” or “classic luxury” as a selling point, and even bringing back a retro-styled JFK Continental. (The 1961 Continental won numerous design awards.)

  5. Caddillac never learned its lesson from its Cimarron failure and tried unleasing the Catera anyway. Looks like they finally learned though.

    I agree, Lincoln better change something, or they’re going to die a most deserved death. A different grille, tailights, and badging don’t fool most people (unless, as Eric points out, they’re on a large SUV).

    Anybody remember the Lincoln Versailles? Who knew it was just a fancy schmancy Granada? Apparently – a lot of people!

      • eric, and the Ford Granada, ha ha ha, what a POS. Then those big Le Baron’s that were pure junk. Yep, there are many I prefer to not remember. Back in about 2000 I had a friend selling Lincoln/Mercury’s. He called me one day laughing and said “Have I got a deal for you’. He was giggling all the way through but told me I could then buy one Blackwood and get two loaded out Marquis’s free. I guess it was a good deal if you could afford $60,000 back then….or anytime.

  6. Hopefully, Lincoln will get more development now that Ford has dumped ownership of its Euro Luxo brands.

    The marque has built some models which were outstanding for their time……especially in the 1960s, like the Kennedy assassination 4 door convertible.

    Many of their designs which were viewed as extravagant at the time seem to age well. I think that will include the current MKX.

    Maybe more sequels to the “Lincoln Lawyer” books and movie will help. 🙂

    • I hope so – and agree with you on earlier/classic Lincolns. The original Continentals were (still are) beautiful cars. I also like the current Town Car – because it’s classic, old-school luxury with no “sporty” pretense whatsoever. Just big, soft and comfortable.


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