Having decided against killing it outright, Ford is willing to give its Lincoln luxury division at least one more try with seven new models over the next few years and more attention by dealers. How hard will the turnaround be?
“It will take every ounce of our energy to execute Lincoln in North America,” says Jim Farley, Ford’s global sales chief.
That’s a pretty tall order. It’s not just about the vehicles. CEO Alan Mulally has said he expects them to be on par with the best from Mercedes-Benz; Lexus and BMW, yet Ford still intends to share chassis with its mainstream Ford Division.
Rather, according to Farley, the tougher part may be coaxing dealers to go all-out for customers. “The secret sauce to Lexus was the personal touch,” says Farley, a Toyota/Lexus veteran. It’s about tiny things that make a huge impact on customers, like putting a rose on the seat after bringing cars back for a recall repair or making sure every car is washed after servicing.
In any other business except cars, it might not be so hard, but dealers are independent businesses, as they are always quick to point out when it benefits them, so they can try to resist Ford’s call for them to pour millions into improvements into their businesses or not retrain their sales forces to be more responsive. Considering Ford’s investment, resistance may be futile.
For Farley, it’s the first page of a turnaround story because customers aren’t particularly keen on Lincoln, unless maybe they are retired and living in Florida. “I don’t think we’re relevant to the core luxury customer,” Farley acknowledges. “You have to wake up to the market.”
Farley says he isn’t going to court the obvious luxury targets, Type-A males who are successful in business. Rather, he going go after a demographic he calls “the magician” — trend-setting creative types who live on the coasts. They are more open to change and will buy the best, or at least most interesting, car regardless of what others think.
Gucci came back. Burberry came back. Farley thinks Lincoln can come back, too.
Killing Lincoln was an option that was considered, says President of the Americas Mark Fields. It would have been easy to dispatch it just the way that Mercury was sent to the grave, but Lincoln is being given its day once again.
Free Car Pro Advice to Ford: Drop all the letters, I concentrate on these things and I even have to think about which “MK whatever” I am thinking about. I can’t imagine the public can keep up. Build sexy cars and put sexy names on them. Just my two cents.