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The 2013 Lincoln MKZ (Credit: Ford).
Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln division has a new name. Henceforth, cars will be marketed as coming from the Lincoln Motor Co., an attempt to give the long struggling luxury division of the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker some identity apart from Ford's Focus sedans and pickup trucks.

New name aside, it's going to take a lot of work and a new stable of vehicles for the luxury brand to regain its stature with car buyers looking at Cadillacs, BMWs, Audis and Mercedes-Benzes.

After decades of abuse--selling rebadged Fords and stodgy airport cars like the Town Car -- Lincoln's brand equity has faded like the paint on a Continental left to molder in the back yard. The average age of its buyers are 65, and less than half of Lincoln buyers are coming from other luxury brands.

The star of Lincoln's current attempt at a revival is the 2013 MKZ. While the former MKZ was a barely differentiated version of the Ford Fusion, the new MKZ has its own sleek look, minimalist state-of-the-art interior and features like push-button gearing on the dashboard instead of a console or steering column mounted gear shifter. See our review of the 2013 MKZ here.

Identifying the problem

The problem isn't that Lincoln needs a name change; it needs a product overhaul. It needs competitively priced, exceptional vehicles instead of high-priced Ford products. It needs a younger following; an identity that says Lincoln is cool, fun, and luxurious. Right now, no matter what Lincoln wants to call itself, Lincoln has as much mojo as a bag of sand.

This, of course, is not news to Lincoln officials. They've been talking about remaking the luxury brand for years. The product revolution is always right around the corner in yet again a flurry of hype and marketing speak.

Seriously. The boaty-looking MKT was supposed to be a leader in the large crossover segment. It failed to catch on and has been designated as an airport livery vehicle, a move which will further kill its retail appeal for try luxury buying consumers. The MKX crossover, which looks all too similar to the Ford Edge it is based on, was supposed to challenge stalwarts like the Lexus RX350, but has failed to ignite. The flagship MKS sedan was going to invigorate the brand with its EcoBoost power-train and plush interior, but it is over-priced and underwhelming compared to other cars in the $50,000 neighborhood.

Pardon my misgivings, but saying Lincoln is ready to pounce on the likes of Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus, or any other luxury or premium brand seems as foolish as saying Mitt Romney can still win the election. Lincoln, because of its lackluster, out-of-date image, is going to have trouble even gaining sales from Ford customers looking for a step up.

Finding new customers

Through November, Lincoln sales are down 3.2 percent, while the industry is up 13.9 percent for the same time period, according to AutoData Corp. But more telling is that Lincoln's volume remains embarrassingly low.

In November, the best month for auto sales since 2008, Lincoln sold a total of 5,732 vehicles, down 9.1 percent compared to last November. Meanwhile, Acura sales rose 23.6 percent for the month, to 12,246 units; Infiniti sales climbed 41.2 percent to 11,897 units; Cadillac sold 14,517 units, up 30.3 percent; and BMW sold 36,484 cars and trucks, up 38.7 percent.

Lots of people want luxury cars, as sales in the segment indicate. But convincing them to sign up for a Lincoln ahead of other much more contemporary brands is a hard sell and a long walk.

The $1 billion investment

Ford recently announced it was pumping $1 billion into Lincoln in the way of new products and marketing. And to lead the change, Ford has appointed its top-dog marketing chief to specifically run Lincoln and be accountable for its success or failure. That's a welcome change since the brand, for the last several years, has had no manager that held the position. The brand was run by committee.

Lincoln will begin new print ads this week first asking the question, "Does the world need another luxury car?" Next week, it has a campaign beginning called "Hello, again" as Lincoln attempts to introduce itself again to consumers.

Meanwhile, there is a new digital and television marketing campaign, including a Super Bowl spot created via social media under the watchful eye of late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon.

Fallon tweeted Monday: "Lincoln hired me to write a BIG commercial and I need you guys to help me."

The idea is to have people create an all-new campaign in 140 characters or less. It's also to show that Lincoln has a Twitter account. Of course, by definition, Lincoln getting a Twitter account could suggest that Twitter is on its way out.

While all of these much needed changes had to be done, it only emphasizes how badly the Lincoln Motor Co. has been neglected. More than a decade ago, Ford began collecting European luxury brands--Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin--because it saw Lincoln as insufficient to challenge German and Asian luxury brands. Ford has sold off all those brands, and finds itself back with only Lincoln to slug it out in the luxury market.

"We feel like we can create a whole new experience for people that starts with the vehicles but is very much about how our buyers get treated at the dealership, and by Lincoln Motor Co.," says Matt Van Dyke, global head of Lincoln marketing, sales and service. "We see our competitors having gone to--let's say a big box store impersonal experience--and we feel we can take an approach like that of a boutique luxury hotel."

The Lincoln name may be hot right now because of the blockbuster hit movie from Stephen Spielberg. But that will be fleeting. There is something about "Lincoln" in the car business in the 21st century that simply has the ring of yesterday and long ago. Not relevant today. And that is enormous baggage for even great new products and captivating advertising to make up for.

Finding hope

As much as I hope Lincoln succeeds – a better luxury segment, especially in Detroit, is better for everyone -- the billion-dollar answer is not a new advertising campaign or even treating customers like kings at the dealership.

The answer, if it has any chance of surviving, is going to be great product, and more great product. It's not TV commercials that last a month or two, but a consistent, sustained effort pitching Lincoln for the next few years in a way that is attractive and makes sense to luxury buyers with lots to choose from. Memorable product and memorable advertising, done well, over a period of years, not months, is the recipe.

Real buzz about Lincoln's vehicles will begin only when a true flagship vehicle arrives that makes not only customers, but Lincoln's rival, quake. No one is going to buzz about a car that is pretty good and is priced $10,000 more than its competition as a loaded MKZ is.

It's hard to see that this car is really going to turn some heads and post respectable sales in a year or so. If I am right, and Ford's patience wanes, then it may be time to take what's left of that billion dollars and start a new brand from a clean sheet of paper.

Given the billions upon billions Ford spent to try and fix the European brands it already sold off, and now Lincoln, maybe it would be best to start over from scratch with a really new idea and new name to go with it.


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      • 2 Years Ago
      If you think Lori`s story is unbelievable,, a month-back my son also made the small fortune of $9068 just sitting there eleven hours a week an their house and their friend's half-sister`s neighbour was doing this for four months and got over $9068 parttime at there pc. applie the information from this website... http://www.Cloud65.com
      • 2 Years Ago
      Like most brands there is to much copy cat going around. Seems like one needs to actually read off of the car what it is before it can be termed one make or another. One good designer for ten different cars.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Hey, Aren't most of the Hi End so called Luxury cars just rebadged / Acura? Lexus? Infinity?Caddy? and Lincoln!
        • 2 Years Ago
        @BOB BOWEN
        Glad someone else has figured that out. And most of GMs larger cars are rebadged Opels or Holdens.
      • 2 Years Ago
      all lincoln,s are too pricy,and when you take your lincoln in for repairs it cost to much.
      • 2 Years Ago
      This review means NOTHING as it is written by a guy who doesn`t even try to hide his disdain for American automobiles and Ford in particular.For my money,he can get in his Jap Toyota ,which I`m sure he drives,and drive it right straight into Hell!
      • 2 Years Ago
      I saw this coming when Ford did away with the Mercury label. Also a few really bad ideas like the Lincoln Versailles, that some referred to as "Very Silly" or re branding a pick-up truck as a Lincoln. Now that Mercury is gone, Lincoln is invisible. Ford used to keep a space between Ford and Lincoln/Mercury. You could buy a Pinto Pony with manual steering and brakes, 4 on the floor and optional radio, but a base Bobcat came with automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and AM/FM radio. Lately Lincoln is a re badged Ford with the same power train, interior and equipment. How about this......... Bring back the Crown Victoria and the Town Car as two separate entities, one aimed at the service sedan market with a police option for Ford, and the other a real highway boat with all of the bells and whistles for Lincoln!!...........Take the Taurus SHO in full sport ECO-Boost manual transmission only trim for the Ford label and an all out personal luxury super charged version for Lincoln. Bring back the the F40/Ford GT and Panterra, again in full race trim for Ford and a full luxury trim for Lincoln. Also get the Lincoln name plate back into ALL Ford dealers like GM does with Chevrolet/Cadillac.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have a 95 town car, with 239,000 miles This car runs like new, My mechanic tells me they don't make cars like that any more.
      • 2 Years Ago
      There is very little on the road that catches your eye anymore. I like seeing a vehicle that would turn my head but the creativity in the design departments seem to be unimaginative.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have always been a FORD man,,,,,,,,,,,,I just had better service with them... But,,with all cars,,,if you get passed a 1978 model of any of them,,,,,,you do not have a car.... 1978 back,,,are real vehicles.!!!!!
      • 2 Years Ago
      Im a Chevy man, But I will say on my opion Ford should scap the Mercury division for one. 2 Bring back the Thunderbird. Ford was finally getting decent styled cars a decade ago with the Thunderbird and todays Mustangs look cool. Problem with the Thunderbird a decade ago was the price. Come on, 45G for a Ford? Chevy Corvette back then was cheaper by 7 thousand dollars. It was a nice car but way over priced, so it failed. Ford trucks are just too hillbilly red neck styled. Stick with GM everybody and youll see there better built and look cooler, better longer warantees and they last.
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is interesting from the article. The last time Ford had a pushbutton trans it was in the Ford Edsel circa 1958. I hope this turns out better.
      • 2 Years Ago
      After driving and selling a 2006, 5 series BMW for six years, I find my 2012 S series Lincoln that I purchased to be a soft, enjoying ride. It does lack the feel of the road that I had with the BMW. However I do welcome the change. Lincoln has to look into the pick up from a dead start and the turning ratio for a better performance. Keep the miles per gallon in mind Making this a luxury American car and the only luxury car built in America is not a bad idea. Caddy once was that in my hey day and I think Lincoln could be that car now as Caddy went to a different feel
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