The Lincoln MKR may be a key ingredient to reviving Lincoln

A night at the Ford theater: The Lincoln brand has been on a streak that 's been seldom duplicated over the last 10 years. Of course, we all know that the streak has been a bad one. Terrible, in fact. Sales have gone from well over 200k in the mid-90s to only 120k in 2006. The individual vehicles within the Lincoln brand have been left to rot in many cases, and the ones that have been updated are in the worst-possible market situation (see Navigator). In the rotting category, the livery special of the millennium, Town Car, rides on an ancient body-on-frame car platform. The Panther platform stems from the late 1970s LTD. Almost as ancient as the platform on which the Town Car rides is its powerplant. The 4.6L, two-valve V8 and four-speed transmission are shared with the F-150 of all things. There are still a slim minority that say the Town Car is classic American luxury, but with a chassis and powertrain that's older than many of Autoblog's readers, classic would be the operative word.

Many more products have been unceremoniously killed off without the benefit of a redesign. Since 2000, the Aviator and LS never saw a single design change and came to market severely disadvantaged. The Aviator has been a well-chronicled failure. It reportedly shared only 40% of its hardware with the Explorer off which it was based. Amazingly, just about the only area of the Aviator that is common with the Explorer is the exterior design. That's just crazy. What executive team approves new everything except the sheet metal? Sure it had a different grille and different front and rear lights, but the decision-making there was weak. Then you have the LS, which sold 50,000 copies in 2000. It sold 8,500 just six years later. When it came out, the LS had the BMW 5 Series within leaping distance. At the end, it had $10,000 rebate stickers on the windshield.

Continue reading A Deeper Look Into the Lincoln Brand: Reviving or Dying?

Luxury or Well-Contented, FWD vs. RWD: The definition of American luxury to many is a big car with a big trunk, a ridiculous V8, and perhaps most importantly, rear wheel drive. The Town Car fits the description quite nicely, but unless you own a taxi or limo company, you probably don't want one. Navigator and Mark LT have RWD and V8 engines, but they're gussied-up trucks. Everything else that's in the showroom now or in the confirmed pipeline is driven by the front wheels. Furthermore, there are no V8 engines to speak of.

The MKX is crucial to Lincoln's plan to gain all-important dealership traffic

Critics from every angle are calling this Lincoln's biggest mistake. You don't find FWD in a BMW or Mercedes. Most of the Lexus lineup is RWD, too. Same for Infiniti. As seems to be the case with everything, Toyota is the benchmark. Lexus has dominated the domestic luxury outfits, and Lincoln is merely following the leader. While the LS 460 and IS 350 are both RWD, the real volume for Lexus comes from the RX 350 and ES 350. Almost two thirds of Lexus' sales numbers come from those well-respected yet boring cash cows. In the past year, Lincoln has launched the MKX and MKZ. The MKX is better-looking than the Lexus RX 350, yet very similar in shape and capability. MKZ, too, is more interesting-looking than Lexus' ES 350 sedan and has similar dimensions. All four vehicles come with 3.5-liter V6 engines. The MKZ and MKX came first during Lincoln's time of need because they represent volume for the brand and its struggling dealers.

Looking into the near future: If the product lineup Lincoln has right now is kept up and not abandoned like in the past, then it's reasonable to assume that it can again hit 150-160k vehicle sales per year. That would put them back at the 2003 level. The next 12-18 months, however, will bring two and possibly three MORE products to Lincoln showrooms. The first vehicle to mention is the MKS sedan.

MKS will have rear-biased AWD and a 3.7 Liter V6 with possible turbo applications

Designed on the same platform as the Ford Five Hundred, the MKS will use good looks, efficient power, and rear-biased AWD to attract customers. Like the Five Hundred, the MKS will have plenty of interior space, and will represent a true competitor to the Cadillac DTS in the American large car luxury market. Sales projections will undoubtedly fall in the 25-35k range, which if attained will bring a needed boost to the brand's overall sales figures.

The next product in the Lincoln portfolio to come next year will be a Fairlane concept-based Lincoln people mover. No pictures of this vehicle have been shown anywhere, but it will have room for six or seven. Ford brass have stated that this vehicle will be the first to truly show how Lincolns and Fords can have similar underpinnings yet drastically different exteriors. Numbers for the Lincoln crossover will again likely fall in the 25-35k range. The next possible Lincoln pulls a page from Lexus' book. With RWD and great looks, the MKR concept shares a lot in common with the Lexus IS, which accounts for the remaining majority of the japanese automaker's vehicle sales.

Click the above image to view more MKR pictures from the Autoblog Galleries

The MKR has a lot going for it, but perhaps the most important facet of this good-looking American luxury vehicle is its Mustang-derived platform. That makes it feasible for production while giving Lincoln much-needed RWD luxury cache. The vehicle looks a bit larger than the IS but shares sporty proportions and sleek design. A "halo" vehicle like this for Lincoln could drive traffic into showrooms and spur sales in general. The MKR is purely a concept, but if a similar car receives the all-important green light for production, it could and would be a crucial component of the Lincoln brand strategy.

Lincoln just may be for real: In just two years, Lincoln's production numbers can go from 120,000 vehicles to well over 200,000. Pricing that ranges from $30,000 to $60,000 keeps the brand firmly planted in the luxury arena while giving potential customers a less expensive luxury option. AWD across the lineup gives Lincoln one slight edge against Acura and Lexus, and superb sales and service satisfaction will help retain whatever customers Lincoln has left. Overall satisfaction from JD Power has been good, and Ford is trying to get better. The area Lincoln will need the most help in is with the journalists and analysts. RWD somewhere in the product line will help a lot.

The wild card in this scenario is the MKR, but there's a good possibility that some form or offshoot of this vehicle will hit the market in due course, with the platform and engine being the surest bet. Just imagine, too, if the Town Car actually gets a rock-solid update with a new chassis and powertrain. The sky could be the limit.