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Lincoln future product and branding tops Ford's to-do list

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Lincoln future product and branding tops Ford's to-do list

Jamie LaReau

Automotive News -- September 3, 2010 - 2:53 pm ET

WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. plans to further differentiate the Lincoln and Ford division product lineups, while giving the luxury Lincoln brand a “point of view,” company leaders promise.

Ford is also planning for fewer Lincoln dealerships in major metro areas.

With Mercury to be discontinued by year-end, Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of global marketing, sales and service, said the automaker is applying “100 percent” of its focus on Lincoln design and customer service in order to win younger customers.

“It's not about scale right now, it's about getting it right,” Farley said at an event here this week. “The next set of products is about getting it right for the customer.”

Lincoln is Ford's only luxury brand after the sale of Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover in recent years.

In 1998, Lincoln sold 187,121 vehicles, finishing number one in the U.S. luxury market. But last year, it ranked six with sales of only 82,847 vehicles. Lexus led luxury brands with 215,975 sales.

Waterfall grille

Ford has promised Lincoln seven new or improved vehicles in the next four years.

Farley said Lincoln's future design will have a “point of view,” which he did not further explain.

Lincoln's future products will stay in the $35,000 to $55,000 price range, Farley said.

The brand's signature waterfall grille will remain on future models, he said. But future Lincoln products will have body design cues that differentiate them more from Ford division products than the present lineup. He declined to provide more specific product details.

The two brands often share the same underpinnings and engines.

“Our commitment on the upper body will be specific, and the MKX is an example of that,” said Farley. “We're making a commitment to differentiate the product at every step we can.”

The 2011 MKX crossover, for example, shares the same architecture with the Ford Edge. While the front and rear of the MKX body differs from the Edge, the rest of the body styling is somewhat similar.

Both crossovers offer Ford's new MyTouch interior technology as standard or optional equipment. MyTouch provides navigation, entertainment, Blue Tooth and climate controls all connected through a touch screen system. The vehicles also offer similar standard or optional creature-comfort features such as leather seating. Yet MKX pricing starts at $39,995, the Edge starts at $27,995. Both prices include shipping.

A vehicle that Lincoln has differentiated from Ford is the Lincoln MKT crossover. It has a dramatically different styling compared to its platform sibling the Ford Flex.

Some critics have argued there isn't enough overall differentiation between Lincoln and Ford products to motivate customers to pay a premium for the Lincoln badge. But Farley said Lincoln's advantage is what he dubs: “the customer experience.”

“People don't cross shop luxury at the feature level,” Farley said.

Cutting the count

Boosting Lincoln's cachet will mean emphasizing technology and fuel economy in advertising. It also means offering superior customer service, Farley said.

Farley said Lincoln also needs to thin its dealership ranks in metro areas to enhance the viability of surviving stores and to boost the brand's image. As of mid-2009, Ford had 1,189 Lincoln franchises in the United States.

“In major metro markets we have to get our dealer body count down,” Farley said. “And we have to get our dealer throughput up. It's really critical we improve our profitability in the dealerships so that we can get our customer buying experience up.”

Farley declined to say how many Lincoln dealerships Ford intends to shutter. He did say Ford is “aggressively” working with dealers on a voluntary consolidation program.

With Mercury going away by Dec. 31, some 261U.S. Lincoln dealerships currently coupled with Mercury, will be standalones. Most of those will not survive with just Lincoln.

In the meantime, Ford has no plans to sell Lincoln vehicles overseas.

“Why would we want to distract our engineering team on what's needed around the world when we need to get it right here in the U.S.?” Farley said. “The next set of products is about getting it right for the customer.”.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100903/OEM/100909945/1256#ixzz0yVl3EczG

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