To claim the fate of the U.S. auto industry rests on the success or failure of Lincoln is about as bold a statement as one can make, but that's how far NPR program Planet Money goes in its latest episode (scroll down to listen). The gist of host Alex Blumberg and contributor Sonari Glinton's argument is that a successful luxury brand brings in more profit per unit sold, creates domestic manufacturing jobs and generates innovative technology that eventually trickles down an automaker's entire lineup. All those things contribute to the overall health of an automaker, and if Lincoln (and Cadillac for that matter) were successful competing against the world's top luxury brands, then Ford – and by extension the U.S. auto industry – would be in much better shape.
To make this point, the two hosts draw an analogy between Lincoln and Audi, the latter of which has risen on a wave of methodically executed success for over a decade to become a global leader in automotive luxury with the youngest clientele in the business. To achieve this success, Glinton argues that Audi followed the following three-step plan.
Step 1: Become known.
Step 2: Totally separate yourself from the parent company.
Step 3: Make a really cool car.
There's no argument that Audi has done these things and that they've contributed to the brand's success, but Glint goes on to explain how Lincoln is trying to walk the same path to similar success. To become better known, it will soon launch a new marketing campaign to replace the one starring Roger Sterling from Mad Men. To separate itself from Ford, Lincoln has created its own design center a few miles down the road. And as for the really cool car, that would be the new MKZ. From listening to the episode, one doesn't get the sense that even Blumberg or Glint believes Lincoln will achieve what Audi has for parent company Volkswagen, but they seem to put a lot at stake if it doesn't.
And that's where we differ with Planet Money. While there are countless positives that would result from Lincoln becoming a world-class luxury carmaker, Ford has survived and even thrived in recent years despite not being able to improve the marque's fortunes with consumers. Even if this latest attempt doesn't get Lincoln a mention in Jay-Z's next single (acknowledgment by the rap community appears to be the clearest indicator of luxury brand's success), past experience tells us that Ford – and Lincoln – will just keep trying.