In one sense, Lincoln is on a roll. It rides out the year having unveiled three substantially refreshed SUVs — the new full-size Navigator, the MKC crossover and the Nautilus, the new name for its top-selling MKX that Lincoln revealed in Los Angeles. The company is on pace to sell 50,000 vehicles this year in China, a four-fold jump after just three years in that market, and its sales growth in the U.S. outpaces its competition in the luxury segment. And analysts applauded the brand for moving away from its confusing alphanumeric naming system as a way to differentiate itself.
But Lincoln remains far behind its competitors, with a market share that lags the likes of Lexus, Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and even Cadillac. Its product portfolio is more limited too, heavy on hot-selling SUVs, but with only two cars — far fewer than the German luxury brands — and no marquee sports cars.
Instead, Lincoln made it clear in Los Angeles that it's leaning heavily on creating distinctive experiences for its customers — its strategy focuses on being "warm, human and effortless" — as a way to stand out from the field. One way it's trying to do that is through its Black Label program, which offers premium interior trim options like unique leather stitching patterns, Alcantara headliners and laser-etched aluminum accents, and combines all that with a suite of services. Black Label members get an enhanced premium maintenance plan that includes wear and tear, anytime car washes and annual detailing, a dedicated concierge and the ability to be custom-fitted for a vehicle at their home. It also comes with a Culinary Collection, a curated list of more than 50 participating restaurants across the country that offer exclusive reservation assistance, visits from the noted chefs and other perks.
Lincoln is introducing a new "Gala" Black Label theme on its new Nautilus, which it says is inspired by a night at a fashion gala. It's an interior decked out in what it calls Carmine Red, reflecting a popular color in fashion, with perforated seat stitching that form interlocking Ls. It joins the Thoroughbred and Chalet Black Label themes for the new Nautilus, which goes on sale next spring. Other Black Label themes including the Navigator's Yacht Club theme, with a Chroma Blue exterior paint color, upgraded leather seats and whitewashed teak wood in the center console, and Center Stage, with jet black Venetian leather with red accents, available on the MKC. Not all themes are available on every model, and Lincoln says it's being careful to limit Black Label choices on each model so as not to overwhelm buyers with decisions.
Megan McKenzie, SUV marketing manager for Lincoln, said the Black Label upgrades add about $10,000 to the price of a Navigator SUV. Uptake rates vary between models, from around 10 percent of sales for the Continental sedan to roughly 20 percent for the Navigator.
"For us, it's important that we offer it to all of our customers, whether they're buying a smaller vehicles or a larger vehicle, which is different from kind of the way some of the industry might go," McKenzie said.
Lincoln launched the Black Label program first on the 2015 MKC and 2015 MKZ, then later expanded it to the MKX and Navigator. It's now offered on all Lincoln vehicles save for the MKT, its three-row crossover.
Lincoln also announced an ambitious new month-by-month subscription service it plans to launch early next year in California, but said it had not yet determined pricing. And it said it was piloting a new program, based in part on its Pickup and Delivery service, to let customers test-drive and purchase vehicles from their homes. It started that program with 10 dealers across the country but is eyeing expansion, with applications from 75 dealers interested in participating.
"Dealerships as destinations, I think, is evolving at a pace that we haven't seen," said Robert Parker, Lincoln's global director of marketing, sales and service. "People want options, and we want to be on the leading edge of those options."