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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Resurrecting Lincoln.

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Resurrecting Lincoln.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 6/8, Noon) Detroit. Make no mistake, the most significant news coming out of Ford last week was not that the company was fading out Mercury, but that it was about to go "all-in" on Lincoln after years of spinning its wheels with its luxury brand and never really gaining any traction for it beyond maintaining what little momentum was already there in the market. And this while its crosstown domestic luxury rival – Cadillac – had at least made a noble attempt at reinventing itself over the last decade to muster a fight against Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, and with more than a modicum of success too.

But I will caution that before too many conclusions are jumped to in this situation, it should be made clear that the parallels to Cadillac only go so far, because in reality Lincoln is in nowhere near as bad of shape as Cadillac was when GM made a commitment to jump-start its luxury division. At that time Cadillac was an amalgam of fits and starts, playing with Northstar V8 engines and flirting with improving driving dynamics on the one hand, while its dealers were clinging to the Vogue whitewall-vinyl “top hat” era on the other. And it wasn’t pretty.

Ford management at least made sure Lincoln has had the latest corporate technology at its disposal in recent years, and a new design language was painstakingly established, two very crucial things for the brand going forward. So Lincoln is not starting completely from scratch by any means.

But beyond that, the challenges with resurrecting Lincoln’s image and stature in the luxury market are monumental.

Lincoln’s first task? Lincoln marketers must understand where the brand has been and where it is now – in very realistic terms, I might add – before they have a shot at figuring out where they want to go with it and what they want it to be when they launch it out of its now perennial “intermittent sophisticated luxury (sort of)” holding pattern.

After all, where do you begin? Is Lincoln going to be going after the German luxury-performance dynamic - like Cadillac has tried to do - albeit with a boldly American design presence? Or is it going to wimp-out and align itself with the “blissfully unconscious” school of luxury that Lexus has called its own for going on decades now? Or what about taking aim at Audi’s hard-won positioning as the sophisticated, technology-laden, thinking person’s ideal of advanced German luxury-performance?

What would I do with Lincoln? Well, first of all, I wouldn’t do any of the above. It’s fine to be soberly aware of your competitors and their strengths, weaknesses and capabilities, but it’s quite another to get lost in “chasing” another competitor’s persona. That’s nothing but a dead-end road filled with abject disappointment.

No, Lincoln has to carve out a new identity all its own, not only keeping in mind that that its name has been part of the American fabric for decades, but also being very aware that for many its current image and reputation are nonexistent, or at best wrapped-up in the black sedans of the livery trade.

The “new” Lincoln must have a bold and unmistakable design presence. Its new design “face” – the one that is slowly making its way throughout the current Lincoln lineup - can only be a starting point. From there I want the words “dramatic” and “stunning” to be instantly associated with the brand. There should be no mistaking that it’s a new Lincoln on the road, no matter what segment it is.

As for technology, if I was running Lincoln I’d want all of it. Lincoln must be the “tip of the technological spear” for the Ford Motor Company in every respect. That means Lincoln must have state-of-the-art dynamic capabilities, advanced electronic capability and connectivity, the very latest in safety technology, and a concentrated emphasis on overall operating efficiency, with the advanced and sophisticated drivetrains that are required to be taken seriously in this market.

That last statement is critical, because Lincoln needs to be taken seriously again, both within Ford and by the consumers who need to be convinced that the brand is worth considering again. That is going to take a commitment of time, energy, resources and brain power on the part of Ford.

Do I feel Ford is capable of pulling this off? Absolutely.

I’ve watched as this company has demonstrated the kind of internal discipline and product conviction necessary to pull the iconic Ford brand up by its bootstraps. Led by Alan Mulally and his now legendary brand of focused consistency – and bolstered by one of the top leadership teams operating in this business today – Ford has managed to completely reinvent itself as a forward-thinking, technologically savvy, front-line global automaker.

And I personally can’t wait to see this level of focus and talent dedicated to Lincoln, because I believe Ford’s “best and brightest” can deliver everything that’s expected, and more.

Is it dangerous to throw an extremely high level of expectation on this complete reinvention of Lincoln?

No, just the opposite, in fact.

Instead, it would be more dangerous for Alan Mulally and his team not to have the highest of expectations for the monumental task at hand. After all, when you really think about it, in the course of resurrecting Lincoln it will be much harder to meet and better yet exceed the high standards of achievement newly established within the company than it will be to “benchmark” the luxury competition.

Letting go of Mercury was sad for a lot of Ford loyalists, but not devoting the time, talent and financial resources to Lincoln would have been beyond tragic.

As Ford goes forward, the need for a significant luxury brand in its portfolio will become absolutely crucial. And given everything I know about Ford’s future plans I am confident that Lincoln will become a formidable presence in the market again.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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I'm assuming that Lincoln vehicles will continue to mostly share FWD platforms with Ford brand products for some time to come. Even so, the next generation of Lincoln vehicles can do quite a bit to elevate Lincoln's status in the premium vehicle segment.

Some things I would like to see happen at Lincoln:

1) Drop the "MK(?)" model nomenclature. It's meaningless and silly. The next gen car lines should use a logical "Mark-Roman Numeral" progression related to size. The larger the number, the larger the car. CUVs would utilize actual model names. The Navigator would continue to be the "Navigator".

2) Lose the hideously monstrous grille. I would like to see a new "face" developed that would be inspired by the full width grille theme of the 2002 Continental Concept where the headlights appear as though they are incorporated into the grille area. I think an updated version of this grille treatment with a high tech look would give Lincoln a "face" that is attractive and distinctively "Lincoln".

3) Develop a stylish take on full width taillights bisected by the Lincoln badge similar to the taillight design on the 2007 MKR Concept.

4) A new design language for car products should be developed based on the 2007 MKR Concept. The new design language would feature strong shoulders, a semi-formal roofline, and straight edges balanced out by strategically placed curving surfaces. The only element on the 2007 MKR Concept that would not be a part of future car products for Lincoln would be that hideous grille.

5) Develop a consistent design language for the brand's utility products (CUVs and SUVs). This new design language for utility products would feature the same "face" and full width taillight treatment as the car products, but the rest of the design language would be quite different from the car products.

6) No future Lincoln products should share any sheetmetal with their Ford brand counterparts! Never!

LINEUP:

* Mark III: Compact sedan, coupe-cabrio, and wagon built on a stretched version of FoMoCo's C-platform. This car would be around the same size as the Suzuki Kizashi or 2011 Volvo S60.

* Mark VI: Midsize sedan, coupe-cabrio, and wagon built on FoMoCo's EUCD-platform.

* Mark IX: Fullsize flagship sedan and wagon built on FoMoCo's D4-platform.

* Mark LTC: Retractable hardtop roadster built on the Mustang's D2C platform fitted with an IRS. This would be a low volume "halo" car for the brand. "LTC" stands for "Luxury Touring Coupe".

* Plateau: Compact CUV built on the same version of FoMoCo's C-platform as the next gen Kuga/Escape.

* Sentinel: Midsize CUV built on FoMoCo's EUCD-platform.

* Aviator: Fullsize CUV built on FoMoCo's D4-platform.

* Navigator: Fullsize SUV built on the same platform as the next gen Ford Expedition.

If executed to extremely high standards, I think this lineup and strategy would easily take Lincoln to the next level. I would prefer that all the car products be built on a dedicated RWD architecture, but I don't think that is in the cards for the forseeable future.

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If I had my way, Lincoln would jettison all these FWD models and do what it did back in 1961 - cut the lineup just to a new large very expensive Continental sedan - Ford's version of the new Bentley Mulsanne. I don't think Lincoln can compete with BMW and Mercedes with small sedans. I feel the same about Cadillac, although most will disagree.

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