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Lincoln Abandons Names, Mostly

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Lincoln Abandons Names, Mostly

Zephyr’s gone with the wind; are MKZ, MKX, MKS too alike?

by Paul A. Eisenstein (2006-02-13)

"What is in a name?" So wondered Shakespeare, and so are wondering observers around Dearborn this week. In a clearly controversial move, Ford has decided to abandon some of the traditional names used by its Lincoln brand, opting instead, for alphabetical designations. The old Aviator SUV, for example, will be reborn as the MKX, or "Mark-X," the newly preferred pronunciation. The new Zephyr sedan, one of the division's few recent success stories, will be renamed the MKZ.

"'Mark' is one very, very strong nameplate," asserts Anne Stevens, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Ford's operations in North and South America. It was a long-running nameplate used on a variety of Lincoln products, most recently with the Mark VIII coupe, and Stevens added, "We believe it will be very relevant."

A few familiar names will survive the transition, such as that on the Town Car, Lincoln 's rear-drive traditional luxury sedan, and that on the Navigator, the brand's newly redesigned full-size SUV. "The Navigator name has a lot of equity across the marketplace, so we decided to keep it," explains Ford's Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Service, Cisco Codina.

Sweet-smelling, or otherwise?

But will an MKZ smell as sweet as a rose? Or sell as well as a Zephyr? The decision to drop Zephyr, another once-popular Lincoln nameplate, wasn't easy, Codina admits, nor will it be cheap. The automaker invested millions of dollars in last year's launch of the small luxury sedan - much of that simply to establish name recognition in a brand that will be abandoned barely a year after hitting showrooms.

"It's hard to establish equity in a name, and unless it's a disaster, you should probably stick with what you have," contends Dan Gorrell, head of automotive practice for the California consulting firm, Strategic Vision. "This provides another element of confusion in a market already confused by all the nameplates out there."

The use of alphabetic or alphanumeric names has long been the norm for the high-end German manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW. In recent years, however, the practice has spread across the luxury market. The approach has been adopted by manufacturers ranging from Lexus to Cadillac, which recently renamed its DeVille sedan the DTS, in keeping with the new CTS and STS models.

But the approach doesn't always work, experts caution. Acura lost a significant amount of momentum when, a decade ago, it abandoned well-known nameplates like Legend, adopting alternatives, such as RL, TL and CL. Confused buyers often avoided the brand's new alphabet soup.

Even Mercedes-Benz has run into some problems as its lineup has rapidly expanded. At one time, it was easy to understand the relationship between models like the C-, E-, and S-Class. But it's become much more confusing with the addition of products such as the CLS, CLK, SLK, SLR, ML, and GL.

Too close for comfort?

What particularly concerns observers about the new Lincoln strategy is that the names of three new or coming models - the flagship MKS sedan, smaller MKZ sedan, and MKX crossover - are virtually identical. The automaker experienced similar confusion two years ago when it decided to give the nearly identical Freestar and Freestyle names to a new minivan and a new crossover.

"I'm not sure that this will be successful," says Michael Barr, of Lincoln 's new naming strategy. The president of the San Francisco firm, NameLab, which develops product names and brand strategies, Barr stresses that "A name is central to the failure or success of a vehicle," and cautions that an undifferentiated name can be as damning as an undifferentiated product.

Barr adds that American motorists have traditionally associated names, rather than alphanumeric designations, with Detroit's products, so the new approach could very well confuse potential customers, especially when the badge says MKZ but the company will refer to it as the "Mark Z."

Ford's Codina concedes there will be a learning curve for consumers, but he insists this is the right time to make the change on the Zephyr, "before it gets too much (brand) equity," as well as with other Lincolns.

Introduced only last autumn, Lincoln's dealers sold only 4895 Zephyrs through the beginning of February. So, without a well-established presence, Ford planners believe it's easier to make the switch. And Lincoln will be upgrading the sedan with a new engine, among other improvements, which can be used to establish the new identity.

Lincoln's new naming strategy is just one of the challenges the brand faces. Once the country's number-two luxury nameplate, it is now a distant afterthought for most upscale buyers, lagging well behind import brands such as Lexus, Mercedes, and BMW, never mind its longtime rival Cadillac.

Partnered with the equally-troubled Mercury division, Lincoln has been starved for product, and only last year, Ford planners considered the possibility of dropping one or both brands as part of the so-called "Way Forward" turnaround plan. Mark Fields, president of Ford's Americas operations, has decided to rebuild both Lincoln and Mercury, but it will take some years to get the revival in gear. Whether the new naming strategy will encourage or hinder Lincoln's rebirth remains to be seen.

Link: http://www.thecarconnection.com/Auto_News/...175.A10021.html

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It seems to me like they are going through a lot of fuss for nothing. Just leave the names as they are...a name doesn't sell a product. :duh: I've always wondered this ever since Cadillac switched to alphanumeric, but will they lose the rights to names like DeVille, Eldorado, Seville, and Continental, Zephyr, etc. since they aren't using them anymore? Could you imagine a Hyundai Eldorado or a Lexus Continental?

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I think they're trying to be, at least in on area, a lot like Cadillac.

The problem is, where Cadillac's names are all pretty easy to decipher, because they're all -TS's with either C, S, or D in front (the XLR and Escalade being the unique ones), it's a HELL of a lot harder to remember which lincoln is the MKS, the MKZ, or the MKX...since they all look SO much alike at a quick glance. If anything, even like most foreign makes, the different letter should be first...not last.

I'm usually great with names, and I've been having trouble deciphering which is which.

That said, I always thought actual NAMES worked well for Lincoln, and am pretty certain ditching them for a bad lettering system will probably not go down well...I could be wrong, as people got used to it with Caddy, but Lincoln is different.

Edited by caddycruiser

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This is SOOOOO stupid!

Oh my God... I can't tell you how stupid this is.

First of all, you want to make the freaking names Alphanumeric, so you're going to MK-- whatever the freakin' product is... BUT YOU EXPECT PEOPLE TO READ "MK" AS THE NAME "MARK"?!



Uh, Lincoln? You want better sales? GIVE US BETTER PRODUCT. Don't release a product before it's ready. Don't throw 900lbs of chrome on its hood and call it "stunning". Think before you act.

So, they take a car they promote for a WHOLE YEAR... promotions EVERYWHERE... GET EVERYONE to learn the Zephyr name... then DROP IT FOR MKZ?! But, we're all supposed to know, it's the "Mark Zephyr"? FREAKING STUPID.

I guarantee you the majority of the public is going to read "MKZ" as "M-K-Z".

Now... I'm going to punch a wall to calm down. I want you all to know, you should re-read the above post and substitute the word "freaking" for the "f" curse.

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This is going to come back and bite them hard. Dumb because instead of trying to be something it isn't (Euro or even pseudo-Euro), Lincoln should capitalize from its rich history of memorable names:

MKS should be Continental, MKZ should be Zephyr and MKX should be Aviator. The Mark LT should have been named the Navigator LT. THEN, Lincoln could have called the Mustang-based car the Mark IX without any confusion. "Continental L" should be reserved for the upcoming stretched D3 as the top line model.

Are they trying to kill Lincoln???

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i dunno. the problem is some of those names are just old. old and tired. long in the tooth. if we are going to "go forward" and attract a younger buyer then the names do need to change. 20 and 30 year olds have NO connection to continental or great grandpas zephyr or whatever. i had a continental but i am 47. i wouldn't own another one and i could care less about the name. i have the same thoughts about the chrysler imperial. these are stodgy names that the new buyer, lessee will not warm up to. sorry, thats just the way it is. i remember a story about pontiac changing the names back in the 80's. the 2000 the 6000. folks would come into the showroom looking for a pontiac "goolee" (a 6000 LE). times change, tastes change. thats why we aren't all driving AMC Ambassadors or K Cars.

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I don't like alphanumeric names, but I prefer large sedans by mainstream brands myself. I'm not a luxury car buyer. Luxury car buyers seem to like alphanumeric, so it's OK for Lincoln to follow the rest of them. I don't think any luxury brands, except Rolls Royce and Bentley, use names anymore.

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