In the case of Henry Leland, naming his new car brand after the first President he cast a vote for in 1864 seemed a jolly good idea, on paper.

You should always be careful about the name you choose to give your new baby. The power of association can work in many ways, not always positive.

In the case of Henry Leland, naming his new car brand after the first president he cast a vote for in 1864 seemed a jolly good idea, on paper. His pride and patriotic fervor easily overlooked the fact that the namesake was assassinated and for sure, poor Henry couldn't have known that the second most infamous presidential assassination in US history was to take place some 70 years later in one of his offspring's back seats. Both of those world events sent shockwaves through a nation, and could easily have created a crisis of confidence from which many other countries could not have recovered. The nation did recover and grow stronger, but the Lincoln Motor Company sadly has not enjoyed the same resilience.

From a peak in the '80s, sales of Ford's luxury division have been in decline. Even last year, when all its major competitors (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Cadillac) posted healthy gains, Lincoln suffered another year-over-year loss. The drop in demand came despite several new model introductions and intense marketing support. So how can a storied car marque, which given its nomenclature should be the very embodiment of integrity, strength and achievement, regain its position as the luxury car brand in the US?


Geoff Day has been called the "Pied Piper" of the auto industry, leading auto journalists on wild rides around the globe in his position as former director of communications for Mercedes-Benz USA. Before that, he worked at DaimlerChrysler UK on its PR efforts, and rubbed elbows with the Queen of England in his role at the Buckingham Palace Press Office. His phone is filled with the numbers of the great, the good and the bad. His head is filled with dirty little secrets hiding in many corners of the auto industry.



Lincoln take note: Everybody thought Cadillac was on its last legs a few years ago and it's now America's fastest-growing luxury car company. The same people who predicted Caddy's imminent demise are now calling for the killing of Lincoln, but I think that's Mr. Magoo vision. A distinct product line up, a cohesive marketing story, confidence in its own voice and a strong, vocal commitment from the Blue Oval boys and girls could return Lincoln to leadership.

Lincoln display at the 2012 LA Auto Show

As a founding father of the US auto industry, the Lincoln Motor Company needs to remember what made it great, take those things and put a fresh modern twist on it.

I was very impressed at the 2012 LA Auto Show when Lincoln's stand was a wonderful homage to the brand's rich and celebrity-endorsed history, including Elizabeth Taylor's Continental Mark 2 with a custom interior to match her eyes. Dirty little secret No. 1: one day I hope to own a Mark 2 and make an entrance in a driveway much like Uncle Willie did in High Society. Now that's what I call glamour. But where is that appeal today?

Similar style, luxury and effortless performance were on display at Los Angeles across some 60 years of Lincoln automobiles – the trouble was though, that rich lineage hit a wall around the mid '60s and that is where the display drew a line under its history. They also hurriedly pushed these beauties off the stand after the press had seen them and replaced them with Monroney-clad new cars for the public days.

Removing the vintage cars was a mistake. Why would you sell your best story to an audience already well read on the subject and not show much-needed potential customers the DNA of your current offerings? One of the qualities of luxury is authenticity; I would suggest that is done more by an association to your past achievements than your current lease price.

One of the qualities of luxury is authenticity; I would suggest that is done more by an association to your past achievements than your current lease price.

Ralph Lauren once said to me that when a company's most desired product is one they built 40 years ago then that company is in trouble. Trust me, he knows a thing or two about using the glories of yesteryear to turn a tidy profit today. As the old saying goes, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Lincoln seems to have forgotten the lessons of its early years, when Edsel Ford acquired the company and set its sights on grace, elegance and speed. From that distinct brand philosophy was born the magnificent K series, the sexy Zephyr Coupe sedan and the glorious four-door Continental convertible. Sadly though, it seems today Lincoln is repeating the history of the '80s, little more than badge-engineered versions of the main Ford stable.

Whilst I understand the economics of the car business – it is first and foremost a business, after all – if you have aspirations to own a luxury brand, you better make sure you know what luxury means. Luxury lives in the allure of the form, not the rationale of function. It is tempting for sure to raid the extensive Ford part bins for the latest tech whiz bang, but luxury buyers take cutting edge innovation for granted. It's the price of entry into this segment. What Lincoln needs to do is wrap its technical ability up in a seductive design and a brand statement that says, "I made a cool and intelligent choice in buying this car." A luxury brand captivates by its promise, not its price.

Lincoln should be the American Audi. It has a longer and richer history and a recognition level that makes it a household name.

Some of Lincoln's past associations may have been inglorious, but to be fair, many more spoke to decades of leadership and proud confidence. When the Lincoln Mark 2 was introduced, it cost more than a very royal Rolls-Royce, it looked sexier than a svelte Italian job and was as well built as a German butcher's son. Given all the resources at Dearborn's disposal it doesn't seem a quantum leap to go back to those associations and own its future. Ford engineers are amongst the best in the world and Jim Farley is a highly acclaimed and likeable marketer; the bench strength is most certainly there. As a founding father of the US auto industry, the Lincoln Motor Company needs to remember what made it great, take those things and put a fresh, modern twist on it. Audi wasn't always the cool brand it is today. Only a few decades ago it was the poor, unloved cousin of the Germany car industry. Lincoln should be the American Audi. It has a longer and richer history, and a recognition level that makes it a household name.

By the time Lincoln celebrates its centenary year in 2017, there is no reason why it should not have as many again bright years ahead of it. But it needs the current talented team to breathe confidence and aspiration into the brand. Reaching the ripe old age of 100 is a cause for celebration, but only if they have in place a full car line of models people "ooh" and "aaah" over, teens want to own one day and enthusiasts believe are just as worthy of the badge today as the collectables of yesterday.

In other words, as Abraham Lincoln, the man whose name was taken to form this car company, said,"In the end its not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." If the brand accepts that philosophy I am confident the baby will continue to develop as a healthy growing boy.


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  • 183 Comments
      wafgking
      • 11 Months Ago
      Its not that people want Lincoln gone per say, its we are telling them to go hard or go home.
      ocbrad1
      • 11 Months Ago
      Lincoln has started down the path of rebirth, but it won't be nearly an overnight sort of thing. One could argue that Cadillac's rebirth first began in 1991, with the introduction of the 1992 Seville, especially the STS version. That was the first big step away from the old-school luxobarge image they had, and it set the tone for more athletic styling and driving dynamics. Was it perfect? Obviously not, but you can clearly see the evolution of the Seville into the STS. Likewise, the Catera nee Opel Omega. Also not perfect, but as another step away from tradition towards what was perceived as the target of Euro-levels of styling and driving dynamics. Combined with the evolution of the STS, you can track the Catera into the Gen 1 and 2 CTS, which were consistent improvements over their predecessors. Now Caddy is sitting pretty with the ATS, the Gen 3 CTS, the surprising XTS, and (hopefully) the Elmiraj coupe. Lincoln is starting down a similar path. the Zephyr/MKZ (of which I owned one and liked it) may not have the driving dynamic part down yet, but they certainly are setting a distinctive styling direction for Lincoln. One that has been further echoed in the MKS, fairly popular MKX, and newly introduced MKC. Not everyone likes the styling direction, but nobody can argue that it isn't distinctive. The next step, as Geoff has noted in his article, is to leverage the engineering muscle at Ford to add the dynamic element to the styling element. I've long argued for bringing the G Series Falcon platform from Oz to North America to underpin a proper Lincoln mid-sizer (new Zephyr, and yes I want real names to come back) and a larger Continental to replace the MKS. That being said, the new Mustang platform replete with its IRS could likely be repurposed into a mid-size sport sedan, which would be the starting point for the dynamic march to excellence. They can do it, I just hope they DO do it.
        jOkEy SmUrf aLLsTaRz
        • 11 Months Ago
        @ocbrad1
        I strongly disagree with this...Caddy's comeback did not come with the 92 Seville, or even the Catera...the new Fuel standards of the 80s brought Caddy a new, blunt force look the minimize size for economy. The 90s Caddies were just evolutions of these cars...trust me, my family had all of them in the 80s and 90s. This was around the time where many were saying that Caddy didnt get it with their cars---just look at the 90s Eldo, Allante and so on...and this was around the time everyone began thinking Caddy mailed it in and lost their way--while the German marks were rising. Caddy didnt even think about a REAL change until they were forced to in the late 90s once the Germans and Japanese marks took over market share...
      Dart
      • 11 Months Ago
      Agreed that Fords are so option-able that it begs, "Why buy a Lincoln?" People talk about VW/Audi...but there are NO VWs that are anywhere near as nice as an Audi. 1) RWD platform. 2) Sharing platforms is fine, badge engineering is not. 3) Get rid of the stupid alphabet soup and give your cars NAMES. I personally like the idea of a luxury coupe. Nothing like it in Fords line up, and plenty of upscale builders have coupes. Chrysler at one point was looking to build a luxury coupe based on the Viper chassis, but with all new skin, suspension, wheels, tires, etc and a 6.1L Hemi. Unfortunately M-B killed the idea, much like the ME-412.
        Matt
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Dart
        I offer the Touareg TDI Executive. If you don't think that's nicer than the Q5, you have never sat in one. Touareg is a Porsche in disguise, Q5 is a jacked up A4.
          Matt
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Matt
          Dart didn't say anything about price: "but there are NO VWs that are anywhere near as nice as an Audi. " I offered a counter. Touareg is a luxury crossover priced accordingly, it just happens to have a VW badge.
          Jeepowner
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Matt
          In fact you are correct, but in concept I think you are wrong. The Tourareg is a holdover from the excellently crazy Phaeton era when they were making Bentley's for 50-60k. I still get a hardon for W12 Phaetons. Excellent cars but about as far from VW "peoples wagon" heritage as you can get. So just saying, he is conceptually correct and you are factually.
          Jeepowner
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Matt
          The Touareg TDI does carry a luxury pricetag though. Just Saying.
      cpmanx
      • 11 Months Ago
      I'd like to see Lincoln to succeed for all kinds of emotional and historical reasons. I'd like to see more competition and more choices in the marketplace. But above all, I'd like to see what Ford could do if it fully unleashed its engineering resources on a line of high-end luxury cars.
      Julius
      • 11 Months Ago
      While I would agree Lincoln is worth saving, I do think people who are complaining are basically asking Ford to "go big or go home". Inevitably, investing in a brand makeover will take time. As a luxury brand, the experience is paramount. For Ford to catch up at this point, the cars MUST be distinctive - and not just a Ford with a nose-job. I say this because that's the way Lincolns are perceived now. Obviously, making bespoke platforms will take time and money - but platforms alone may not be enough, especially in the short term. Taking a page from the Motorola X playbook, I'd argue Ford should make those "Lincoln Concierges" real people (preferably on-site) to help people tailor and accessorize their car the exact way they want, like a custom coachmaker. Luxury is often described as having something unique - and a customized vehicle made-to-order can fit that bill. Mind you, I'm not talking about "choosing option packages", I mean real customization - down to choosing the type of wood in the dash, leather patterns in the seats, owner's names engraved and programmed, etc. Couple that with a real white-glove purchasing experience (at a dealer location that doesn't have Fords sitting in the showroom too) and it can start to change minds. It might take a revamping of the dealer experience, but that's half the battle anyway, and can build huge loyalties (see: Saturn), and the payoff might be faster than the lag from designing a new car platform would be.
        Jeepowner
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Julius
        We have a Lincoln-only dealership in my small rustbelt town. Its a bizarre tiny place in todays world but it speaks to what you are saying. They get along with high levels of customer service and low overhead I believe. Lincoln needs something to set it apart and I like your take on it. But we still need a level of value out of the brand. Priced as they are now they make a poor statement. Their interiors are very nice, elegantly designed, but I think they need better road feel. Audi presents itself as engineering marvels, BMW as driving machines, and Mercedes true luxury with performance options. There is room for stylish luxury only as long as they are also: high performance with great road feel. They need to create a new platform for this and use new transmissions/powertrains. MKZ with SHO ecoboost would be something I could get my head around, for instance.
          kmdk78
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Jeepowner
          Very well stated and spot on.
        carnut0913
        • 11 Months Ago
        @Julius
        Very few who bet little win big- which is basically what Ford has been doing with Lincoln. They need to step it up. Their tentative strides look good, the MKZ (even though its FWD), the new Escape-based looks promising. They should think about being a Luxury Subaru- go AWD all the time if they aren't going to invest in a RWD platform. Better, hijack the Mustang platform and create a Lincoln- do something with a completely different body- either a coupe and sedan, or do a Messenger concept (still miss that one from Mercury)
          carnut0913
          • 11 Months Ago
          @carnut0913
          and adopt the Equus ownership experience for your whole Lincoln line...
      Brett
      • 11 Months Ago
      Could not agree more with Day here. Lincoln as a brand is sexier than Cadillac; it was the starlets who drove Lincolns while their bloated Hollywood producers drove Cadillacs. There's absolutely no reason the brand can't resuscitate itself if it finds that old mojo.
      postpast
      • 11 Months Ago
      Lincoln is not dead! People have said that about Audi, Nissan, Mazda, Jag, and Cadillac over the last 20 years.
      Mike J
      • 11 Months Ago
      The MKC is a step in fixing Lincolns image. It has a stretch and pulled frame, so it's bigger than its cousin and it has an exclusive engine. Of course I am not slamming the MKZ I love the design but the Ford Titanium trim hurts it's exclusivity. I actually like the fwd drive train, but possibly stealing from Audi and making all Lincolns AWD is an idea I can get behind. Also if Lincoln stretches the MKZ for China then it should replace the current body as a mid cycle refresh.
      mikeybyte1
      • 11 Months Ago
      The first gen CTS was a bit of a dog. A for effort. C for execution. That marked Cadillac's first serious effort at reinvention. Not the Escalade, which many here are referencing. (Side note - the Escalade was always a rebadge job so funny how some point to that as a turning point for Cadillac but then trash Lincoln for rebadging. But I digress..) At the time Caddy admitted they had a long road ahead, in both product and market acceptance, before they would be taken seriously. Many even said it would be a decade. Cut to a decade later and now nobody bats an eye when you bring up the ATS as a true competitor to the BMW 3 Series. Go back 5-7 years and the reviews would always say something like "I can't believe I am comparing this CTS to BMW but…." Now it's taken for granted because product and perception have changed. So give Lincoln a chance. The funny thing is how people don't read or listen. Ford has said that the first stage to revive Lincoln was with FWD/AWD products spun off of Fords. Which is a big chunk of the Audi playbook. The new MKZ was not their first salvo in this fight. The MKZ was halfway through development before Lincoln got it's own design studio. The MKC is the true first product designed from the ground up. Ford has also said that if this first wave proves successful they would then invest in more halo products. Yes this is different from how Caddy went about it but it doesn't mean it won't work. Great article, BTW. I agree that the MKx names need to go. No logic or aspirational (read alphabetical) approach or logic to them. Plus it would bring back some tradition and help separate Lincoln from how Cadillac has abandoned their names. Imagine the attention Lincoln would get at the unveiling of a new Continental or Town Car or Mark VI? I am thrilled that Caddy turned themselves around. Hoping Lincoln can as well.
        Semislicks
        • 11 Months Ago
        @mikeybyte1
        you americans have to learn that drivetrain isnt all. Audi FWD as may be drives much better than most trans. FF cars. Plus look at the quality the Audis have, you can't compare it to a shity brand like Lincoln. Lincolns are REBAGED Fors. And unlike Opel which is gaining lost ground in Europe and makes better and better cars, Ford is loosing a LOT of its potential in EU. They have some nice handling cars, but they are build cheep, even Kias and Hyundais are build better! Plus 2-3 Year warranty for a lousy build?? Lincoln is toast and it resources should be transfered to Europe to a team that can develop actualy good cars, cause american Ford engineers are just bad. I gloat!
          The Friendly Grizzly
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Semislicks
          I'll take Ford electrics, window mechanisms, and other such things to what Audi installs ANY day of the week. I don't even care for Fords very much. But look on our roads over here. Many 15, 20, and 25 year old Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln cars running along just fine. Find me a 10 year old Audi. There is a reason people LEASE Audis but seldom buy them. They are great for three years, then become money pits.
          mikeybyte1
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Semislicks
          Audis are rebadged VWs and both share horrible reliability.
          • 11 Months Ago
          @Semislicks
          [blocked]
      Pete
      • 11 Months Ago
      Now this is an American brand that can and will endure. It has reached its low but its time has come to flourish on the WORLD STAGE. Its about 2 years behind the Cadillac recovery. I predict in 10 years you will find Lincolns in every EU country, in China, Korea....
      rboote
      • 11 Months Ago
      Lincoln is worth saving IF Ford is willing to put the money/sweat into it. Unless they're doing a full-on Cadillac and giving the brand exclusive quality products, most won't give a damn. At the moment, "Lincoln" just means "Gussied up Ford, that's more expensive." That's no way for a storied brand to live.
      Wonder Woman
      • 11 Months Ago
      What is the point of this article, besides stand alone luxury automobiles like BMW and Mercedes, im not impressed with tyring to get Lincoln to be an American "Audi" is this not what it is already or a Lexus, Infiniti or Acura? They all go into their corporate bin for parts, they all have models that share platforms with lesser models in the low end corporate brand. P.S. Lincoln does not have rebadge automobiles, they do platform sharing. Please learn what rebadge means. think Chrysler/Lancia, Dodge/Fiat its literally sticking a new badge on the car.
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