Every day, automotive pundits around the world come up with clever and witty remarks (and sometimes not so clever or witty) to praise and degrade each new and rumored and speculated car in the industry, and the best way to tell whether one brand is more relevant than another is to assess the amount of publicity it receives. Here, even bad press is good press: Hyundai has famously used negative press as constructive criticism, and used it as advice to better its cars and image.
On the other hand, no news in this case is bad news. Especially for Lincoln. When was the last time you heard a good Lincoln joke? That no one even bothers to kick the three-legged dog that is Lincoln just shows how irrelevant the once prominent luxury brand has become.
Oh, but they’ve been in the news, right? Ford’s luxury brand unveiled the 2013 Lincoln MKS last November at the LA Auto Show and presumably, the 2014 Lincoln MKS at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Know what happened? The automotive industry collectively yawned. We named both vehicles to our duds list from both auto shows and have largely forgotten them since. But, why?
This isn’t the first time Ford has tried to reinvigorate Lincoln. About a decade ago, the brand was undergoing a makeover worthy of its own reality show, spearheaded by the front-engine, rear-drive LS sedan. While the LS didn’t ever quite set sales charts on fire, its advertising campaign won awards, and the car itself won its share of critical acclaim as a solid B-plus effort against European brands. Sadly, the LS lasted only one generation, and we never got to see what an improved version of the car could be. Instead, budget cutbacks forced Lincoln back into its more traditional role of offering little more than Fords with extra chrome.
Establishing Lincoln as an aspirational brand has been the company’s biggest challenge, and reports now suggest that the needs-a-do-over brand is studying the transformation that Lexus and Audi have made as they evolved into distinct lines separate from each brand’s parent company (Toyota and Volkswagen, respectively).
The priority is to create vehicles “uniquely Ford and uniquely Lincoln,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s global product development chief. Of course, it’s not hard to see that the MKS is little more than a dressed-up Ford Fusion, the car on which it is based. And consumer perception shares this image. Whereas the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES have traditionally shared platforms, Lexus has achieved a sense of autonomy from Toyota in the public eye while Lincoln has failed to distance itself from less-than-premium Ford.
A successful luxury brand “has to offer something that you can’t get from your mainstream brand,” said Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS AutomotiveConsulting.
But has Lincoln? Part of the brand’s supposed transformation began when Ford created a separate Lincoln team, and like Audi, whose designers work hundreds of kilometers away from those at Volkswagen, giving them a dedicated design space in its own building. In addition to having “different sheetmetal,” Lincoln, like Lexus, will look to sharpen the premium car buying-at-the-dealership experience.
Of course, Lincoln first needs to attract potential customers. At the moment, to the extent that Lincoln envisions, we’re not sure it can.
Source: Detroit Free Press