• Feb 1st 2007 at 9:29AM
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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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      That was a good point about Kia. About 10-15 years ago, Hyundai was a joke. Buy that car and watch it fall apart in fron tof your eyes. Well, now look at the Korean auto makers. Perhaps Ford could take a Korean Automobile, rebadge it, then sell it as a Ford. Ford has discontinued the Windstar/Freestar Van because it was a slow seller. Does Ford think that American car buyers are that shallow that they can't see that Ford is selling the same van that was built back in the 90's. Nothing has changed with this company, they take a paltform and then keep it around for 15-20 years, then wonder why it does not sell. Just look to the Lincoln Towncar, 70's technology sold to turn of the century car buyers. There are other manufactures who actually are selling a car that the buying public will buy, and some sell their cars without the gimics to get people into their show rooms. Its a shame the Ford is such a poorly run company. Only time will tell of the so-called "Way Forward", plan is a plan for success or failure.
      Again, selling a rebadged Hyundai or Kia might not be a bad idea.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Tale of Two Lincolns

      Ford is one of the few examples of a company who oversees a brand, Lincoln, creating authentic concept cars and fraudulent production cars.

      What Ford didn't see coming was that people, particularly in the lux and near lux sector are searching for authenticity. Concept cars like the Continental concept of 2001/02 had cred, had bank, had a genuinness at a visceral level. It was in those same years that Ford produced Lincoln platform derivative cars - fraudulent to the authenticity Lincoln and prospective customers aspire to.

      The designers' voices must have been discounted in the debates within Ford about what to do with Lincoln. They weren't in a position perhaps to invest the 4-5 Billion General Motors did with Cadillac. Ford reportedly invested something very south of 1 Billion in "the Lincoln look", adapting existing Ford/Mercury platforms to be "Lincoln-ized". Problem is, no one desires Lincoln-ized, they desire Lincoln.

      The new concept they're showed at the Detroit motorshow was adequate to the task but does it create dreams? Is it furthering the legendary Lincoln story... I think not. Even if produced, will they market and truly brand it brilliantly - two very different things -- not likely.

      As long as Ford continues to follow their dealers' advice - misinterpreting sales recommendations as marketing & branding, they have no real future.

      Two paths diverged in a wood and Ford chose for Lincoln the one heavily trod instead of the more difficult one that requires infusing the Lincoln brand with soulful products, ones people desire, not ones Ford desperately tries to sell them.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "Ford needs to position Lincoln not against Cadillac, BMW or MB, but against Acura, Infiniti, Lexus and Audi."

      I think you made a mistake there buddy. You probably meant 'Ford needs to position Lincoln not against Audi, BMW, or MB, but against Acura, Infinitiy, Lexus, and Cadillac.' Little mistake, but shows your lack of knowledge of the luxury market...
      • 8 Years Ago
      The day will come when Ford will regret not taking Lincoln seriously. They should be doing to Lincoln what GM has done to Cadillac. Ford has let Lincoln die on the vine and that will turn out to be a very costly mistake for them.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Interesting editorial.

      You seem to flip-flop on FWD, though, first implying it's Lincoln's main problem, then noting that most of Lexus' volume comes from FWD models. I should add that the RWD GS has been a sales disappointment for three generations at this point.

      I don't see the MKS as a DTS competitor, the proportions and appearance are too import-oriented. I'm seeing a stronger match with the Infiniti M. Though the M is RWD, many of those sold are AWD, and the MKS will be available with AWD. Problem is, Infiniti only moves about 25k of these a year.

      In general, for Lincoln to come back it needs a distinctive, strongly appealing look shared by every model in the line, thoroughly competitive drivetrains, leading-edge features (Bluetooth, keyless start, MyGig, etc.), and class-leading interior fit and finish. I don't see any of this happening yet. The best I can say is that the interiors are distinctive, but I don't sense that many people love what they see there, if they even bother to look.
      • 8 Years Ago
      From a consumer standpoint, I totally agree Lincoln is in dire need of product updates; new models and renewed engineering of Town Car( if they decide to keep it.)
      The proposed new model MKS and concept MKR may be Lincolns way out of the hole. Let's hope so.

      As archaic as the TownCar platform and engine may be,
      it is still roomy and a very comfortable ride.
      The engine delivers decent power and surprsingly pretty good fuel mileage on the highway.
      We had a rental TownCar for several weeks and the fuel mileage average was equal to or slightly better than my wifes 2005 Chysler van that stays on the road most of the time but in the shop at that time.
      Only complaint: lack of feel between the tires on the road and the steering wheel. There was essentially none.
      • 8 Years Ago
      BYW - the 4.6 V8 was introduced in the 1991 Town Car, the 1990 Town Car was the last to have the 5.0 V8. The 1996 styling change killed the Town Car, it also killed the Taurus and Sable, way to go Ford!

      How about the 32valve V8 from the Mark VIII dropped into the Town Car. interesting!

      Why conpare the MKX to an Acadia, one has room for 5, the other room for 7, plus can tow 4500 lbs. 0-60 in 8.1 seconds is plenty fast for that type of vehicle.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Okay, it's like this (and I'll assume everyone's read the corrrections by now)...

      1. The MKR couldn't be a clearer hit. If production hasn't already been greenlighted, Alan Mullaly isn't the man Ford needs.

      2. The MKS must debut with serious power, the SYNCH system, and continue the quality the D3 platform has shown to date.

      3. The Town Car needs a successor ASAP. The recent Continental concept certainly showed a fantastic way to go, and it looks timeless enough that it could still work.

      4. Mercury should, indeed, be Ford's $25K-40K brand. While the MKZ should stay in the 30's, it needs more differentiation and maybe the 3.7 version of the new V67. Hell, make a vicious version with the twin-turbo setup. 415 hp, awd, tighten up the bodywork a bit...and scare the hell out of Audi and Acura at the same time.
      • 8 Years Ago
      If Ford kills Mercury they can focus more on Lincoln.
      • 8 Years Ago
      If they're going to use the rather silly practice of using letters instead of actual names, it would make more sense if there was some sort of logic to it. For example, an MKZ should be "top of the line" with MKA being "bottom of the line." Not that they need 26 models, but you get the point.

      On the product side, they definitely screwed the pooch by not paying more attention to the LS. It was a pretty good car to start with, and could have been a much better car had it been continually updated during its model run. An SUV might sort of make sense, especially the newer crossover type, but a pickup just seems like a stupid idea. I expect to see some iteration of the MKR, especially since it's not the only show car Ford has shown recently based on the Mustang platform with an independent rear suspension.

      They can save the brand, they just need to do a few things that make sense and get rid of some stuff that doesn't fit.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Mr. Shunk, it would be nice if you checked your facts first ...

      1. The Panther platform does not have its roots in an early 1970s LTD. It was introduced for the 1979 model year as Ford's downsized full-size passenger-car offering.

      2. The 4.6L engine in the Town Car is not the same as the one in the F-150. The horsepower ratings may be the same, but the engines are different. The truck engines have different internal components, a different intake manifold, and different PCMs. The F-150 also has two different V8s(4.6L, 5.4L), whereas the Town Car only has a 4.6L.

      3. As for the engine being nearly as "ancient" as the chassis, Ford's modular engine family made its debut a little over ten years ago ... hardly "ancient," and not nearly as old as the Panther platform itself(see #1 above).

      4. The transmission used in the Town Car is Ford's 4R70 automatic, which is also used with the 4.6L V8 in the F-150 - but get a 5.4L engine in the F-150 an you get a 4R75 transmission, which is related to the 4R70 but not exactly the same, and most likely would not swap into the Town Car. It would not surprise me if the gear ratios and the PCM calibration in the 4R70 truck transmission are different from that in the Town Car, too.

      If you want to go off on Lincoln, feel free to do so. But do it with facts and not assumptions - OK?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Ford isn't Toyota.

      Lincoln has one product that doesn't completely suck, the MKX with 3.39 axle ratio. Look at how slow the GMC acadia was in C&D with the 3.16 axle ratio (0-60 in 8.1, 1/4 16.4@85, 0-100 of 24.1)

      The MKZ still uses the AW 6 speed auto instead of the GM/Ford one. Ford could position the lincoln as 3.5V6 front drive with the 3.16 axle ratio, and the haldex type drivetrain with the 3.39, while the Ford Fusion gets front drive 2.77 & 3.5, and 3.16 for its haldex type drivetrain. (until ford give the MKZ the 3.7)

      The navigator has NEVER had four wheel drive, while the escalade has had a center differential from day one.
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