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Lincoln Planning to Reveal Next Wave in Product Assault

Luxury brand looking toward the future.

by on Dec.16, 2016

Lincoln's renaissance continues with the arrival of the new Continental. The sedan is the brand's flagship.

With the new Continental finally on the street, Lincoln has delivered on the promise it made to launch four all-new products — make that five, with the decision to keep the big Navigator alive and an all-new version of the full-size SUV set to roll out around a year from now.

But, to bend the old cliché, what has Lincoln done for us lately? And, more importantly, what is it planning to do during the next several years? We’re likely to find out as early as the upcoming North American International Auto Show, a number of sources both inside Ford Motor Co. and close to the company tell TheDetroitBureau.com.

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One thing that appears to be stuck on the back burner is the long-awaited rear-drive model. Lincoln has long been considering that option, possibly even coming up with a luxury coupe based on the latest Mustang platform. But sources say the Ford luxury brand is confident it can, like Audi and Volvo, do just fine with a mix of front- and all-wheel-drive products, the Navigator being the one exception.

“It’s been a really good year for Lincoln,” said Mark Fields, Ford CEO, during a media reception in New York on Thursday evening. “We’ve been gaining momentum, and in this industry, momentum is a big thing.”

Lincoln’s 2016 performance comes in sharp contrast to crosstown rival Cadillac, which has also been struggling to rebuild its once-lofty position. Cadillac has been gaining ground globally – largely because of its expanded presence in China – but it lost sales and market share in the U.S. this year.

Lincoln, on the other hand, saw home market sales grow 9%, while also tripling its admittedly small volume in China.

Lincoln will be bringing an updated Navigator out sometime next year. Not sure it will feature gullwing doors like this concept.

(Lincoln lures Leibovitz to launch Continental campaign. For more, Click Here.)

That said, Lincoln will wrap up 2016 with U.S. sales of barely 100,000, well under half what it could expect to deliver during its peak years in the 1970s and ’80s.

The Ford subsidiary has been taking a number of steps to rebuild, with an emphasis on the “customer experience.” Among other things, it is going into the 2017 model-year offering pickup and delivery nationwide for customers needing service or repairs. It has also opened up a so-called “Experience Center” in Southern California, something like the showcase operations Tesla has launched.

“It’s not just about vehicles,” Fields said. Well, not entirely. But product certainly has, and will remain, critical to the brand’s comeback.

“What they’ve been doing a lot of is enhancing their customer experience while they didn’t have a lot of new product,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst with IHS Automotive. “Now they have got to put more emphasis on the product side.”

One of the big hits has been the compact Lincoln MKC crossover targeting one of the highline market’s fastest-growing segments. The fast remake of the MKZ sedan launched a year ago, as well as the bigger MKX crossover have been faring well.

And initial signs are positive for the Continental, though the luxury sedan market, on the whole, has been losing momentum as more and more buyers switch to sport and crossover-utility vehicles.

Going forward, expect to see the current products get relatively fast updates, among other things, putting an emphasis on adding new safety and infotainment technologies and further refining the Lincoln design language, sources suggest.

(All new Lincolns to get standard pick up and delivery. For more, Click Here.)

Lincoln is tops on the latest ACSI survey of new vehicle buyers in 2016, due to an updated product portfolio, like the new MKZ.

There will also be some new products to fill in gaps in the line-up, though Lincoln officials emphasize they aren’t planning to go the same route as German manufacturers, proliferating products to fill every possible niche.

“We already cover about 80% of the market” from a sales-weighted basis, Lincoln President Kumar Galhotra told TheDetroitBureau.com during the New York reception.

One possible addition that has long been floating around is a Mustang-based performance coupe, though several sources said that if a rear-drive model were to come to the brand it wouldn’t be something near-term.

“Lincoln has flirted with idea (of RWD) five or six times and has walked away each time,” said Brinley.
“The question is whether that is necessary or can they develop a more comfort-oriented line sticking with front and all-wheel-drive. I don’t know if rear-drive is necessary.”

Another passenger car model is expected, nonetheless. And a new three-row midsize SUV based off the Ford Explorer platform is apparently in the works, as well, though Lincoln officials would not confirm any product details.

That said, the maker is expected to have more to say either at the Detroit Auto Show or shortly afterwards, insiders said.

(For more on the 2017 Lincoln Continental, Click Here.)

As Ford CEO Fields said, momentum is critical, and showing there’s more to come for the Lincoln line-up will be critical to keep the “big mo” building.

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