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Opinion: How Ford Can Fix Lincoln

Can Ford revive a once-grand brand?

by on Aug.08, 2011

Despite high hopes, recent products like the MKS have done little to revive the ailing Lincoln brand.

Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, has been struggling of late, leading more than a few skeptics to wonder whether it’s time to abandon the once-grand marque, much as Ford recently dropped the long-suffering Mercury.  The Dearborn maker insists it remains committed to fixing Lincoln, with plans to introduce several new or redesigned models in the coming years, shuttering dealerships in over-saturated markets while renovating those that remain.

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While executives haven’t exactly been calling us for advice, we’re going to offer it anyway, because that’s what journalists do. If our plans for Lincoln succeed, we’ll expect our payment in a briefcase of $20 bills, thank you very much.

Just kidding—we give our advice for free. It’s up to the executives in Dearborn to take advantage. And Ford is taking the challenge seriously: The company has put together a 92-person task force to address Lincoln’s issues and hired designer Max Wolff away from Cadillac.


A Contrarian Take on Mercury’s Demise

It coulda been a contender.

by on Jan.05, 2011

The original Mercury logo, used from 1939 to 1940.

Editor’s Note: As reported, this week, Ford’s long-struggling Mercury brand officially ceased to exist as the New Year rolled in.  But whether it should have been sent to the automotive rust heap is a matter of debate.  While most folks were happy to see it go,’s resident historian – and contrarian —  Mike Davis weighs in with an opposing viewpoint.

According to the latest definitions, a contrarian argues a counter-intuitive position against the conventional wisdom.  (Note: the word contrarian does not even appear in my vintage 1967 American College Dictionary, much less the one I used as an undergraduate 15 years earlier.  Nor does Microsoft’s spell-check like it.)

Ford Motor Company, after starving its traditional “medium-price” Mercury nameplate for years, finally pulled the plug with production of the last Mercury Grand Marquis at the St. Thomas, Ontario, assembly plant earlier this week. Assembly of badge-engineered Mercury Milan, Mercury Mariner and Mercury Mountaineer ended last year.  Even earlier, the company killed off Mercury Cougar and a decade ago never invested in a Mercury version of Focus.


Bye-Bye Mercury

It’s off to the rust heap for Ford’s former mid-range brand.

by on Jan.03, 2011

Mercury officially ceases to exist.

While most of us were waving goodbye to 2010, over the weekend, Ford Motor Co. was raising a toast and saying farewell to the Mercury division.

The long-struggling brand has been slowing phasing itself out following the decision to take Mercury off life support, last year.  But as of January 1, Ford formally closed the books on the brand.  When dealers opened up this morning they had to have removed all signs, logos and sales pitches for the once formidable Mercury.

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Borrowing the name from Roman mythology – Mercury being the messenger of the gods – the brand was founded in 1939 by Edsel Ford, son of company founder Henry Ford.  The division was designed to fill a spot between mainstream Ford, often called the “Blue Oval” brand, and upscale Lincoln.

In its very first year, Mercury sold 65,800 vehicles, in line with what it has been moving in recent years.  But even in those early days, Mercury struggled to establish a clear identity.  At times, it was pitched as a performance brand.  Alternatively, it was marketed as a more luxurious marque.  But most of the time, Mercury simply marketed the same products as the Ford division, albeit with a different badge.


Lincoln Wants To Eliminate A Third Of Its Metro Dealers

Ford outlines broad restructuring of brand to retailers.

by on Oct.06, 2010

The 2011 Lincoln MKT making its debut at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show.

More than a third of the dealers representing Ford Motor Co.’s only remaining luxury brand will be eliminated under a dramatic go-it-alone restructuring plan for the Lincoln division.

Bringing Lincoln’s retail network more in line with its import competition is just the first step in a broad brand transformation that will also yield seven all-new or significantly updated models for the marque in the next four years. (Click Here for that story.)

“We are fully committed to transforming Lincoln into a world-class luxury brand,” Mark Fields, Ford’s President of the Americas, told about 900 of the division’s dealers and their representatives during a meeting in Dearborn, Michigan.

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But the presentation also outlined some serious challenges for a Lincoln revival.

Until about a decade ago, Lincoln was a strong contender in the U.S. market, locked in an ongoing battle for sales dominance with its cross-town rival Cadillac.  But the new millennium saw a shift away from domestic to import luxury brands, with makers Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz surging to the top of the sales charts.


Lincoln Ready For A Brand Re-Make

New ad campaign only setting stage for major shift in direction.

by on Oct.04, 2010

The Lincoln MKT, one of the brand's newest offerings, will soon be followed by seven other all-new or significantly redesigned offerings.

This past weekend saw the launch of a new ad campaign and an all-new tagline for Ford’s long-struggling Lincoln brand.  “Smarter Than Luxury,” as it’s been dubbed, will emphasize the Detroit marque’s technology – with features like the voice-activated Sync system.

The goal is to “challenge people’s perception,” by emphasizing technology, style and craftsmanship,” explains Matt VanDyke, Lincoln’s marketing communications director.

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But senior company officials admit that no advertising campaign alone will be enough to right what’s been wrong with Lincoln, a brand that must stand on its own, now more than ever.  And that means a dramatic shift in product direction that will begin to surface over the next several years, company insiders hint, as well as a restructuring of the Lincoln distribution network.


Ford Looking To Slash Model Count Says Mulally

CEO betting slimmer line-up will generate fatter profits.

by on Sep.28, 2010

Four of Ford's 37 models will vanish when the Mercury brand is dropped.

Ford Motor Co. may eliminate as many as a third or more of its current nameplates if CEO Alan Mulally has his way, the executive arguing that a slimmer line-up will translate into fatter profits for the healthiest of Detroit’s Big Three automakers.

Mulally provided a vague outline of his plan during a speech to the Confederation of British Industry in London, saying he sees as few as 20 products in the Ford portfolio and no more than 25.  That compares with the current count of 36 individual models.  And that’s already down sharply.

“There will be less than 30, on our way to 20 to 25,” Mulally said when asked about the future Ford line-up. “Fewer brands means you can put more focus into improving the quality of engineering.”

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Such a move would run in sharp contrast to the general industry trend dubbed fragmentation.  As competition has heated up over the years manufacturers have responded by offering more and more niche products — sometimes filling in white space that their lines didn’t previously cover but also by offering multiple products where one model previously sufficed.


First Drive: 2011 Lincoln MKX

New Lincoln crossover moves further upmarket, adds power and major electronics upgrades.

by on Sep.14, 2010

The 2011 Lincoln MKX undergoes significant changes for the new model-year.

Now that Lincoln has been permanently severed from the Ford-clone Mercury brand, the division will have to claw its way upward a step at a time into the realm of real luxury cars, and for 2011, there are a couple of significant steps, notably including the new MKX crossover.

The 2011 Lincoln MKX, first shown to more than a year ago at a private event during the annual Pebble Beach Concours, has major upgrades that should significantly enhance its appeal.

The restyled MKX has the same doors and roof as the 2010 model, but everything else is new, inside and out.  The grille, hood, fenders, lamps, tailgate, and rear lamps, and a completely new interior, instrument panel, steering wheel and dashboard.

The big crossover now has the same large, toothy, split-wing grille as Lincoln’s sedans and the 7-seat MKT in lieu of the original horizontal mesh grille.  At the rear, the full-width taillamp of the 2010 has been replaced by twin lamps, so, in total, it looks very different from the original MKX.

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All 2011 MKXs will be powered by an upgraded 3.7-liter V-6 engine rated at 305 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque, driving the front tires through a 6-speed automatic transmission.  A computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system will be optional. Ford says the MKX will have best-in-class fuel economy of 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.


Lincoln Offering Free Maintenance

Push to rebuild brand before Mercury is abandoned.

by on Jun.18, 2010

Lincoln will offer free maintenance to help boost demand for its expanding line-up.

Struggling to kick-start sales before its sibling Mercury division permanently closes its doors, Lincoln will offer a free maintenance incentive program that extends til the end of the summer.

The program, which covers such routine repairs as brake linings and tire rotations, will cover new Lincoln products for up to 3 years or 45,000 miles.  The campaign runs until September 7, though considering the success other makers, like BMW, have had with similar programs, Lincoln could very well decide to extend the offer beyond the summer.

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“Our commitment is to further grow the Lincoln brand and offer our luxury customers the premium experience they deserve and expect,” said Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service for Lincoln’s parent, Ford Motor Co. “Our free scheduled maintenance offer marks only the first step in our plans to further upgrade the Lincoln experience.”


Who’ll Follow Mercury Onto the Automotive Rust Heap?

There are plenty of other troubled brands.

by on Jun.03, 2010

If the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander doesn't turn things around for the troubled brand its fate, at least in the U.S., will be decidedly uncertain.

Remember Packard?  Or Plymouth?  How about Eagle or Oldsmobile?

A search of the automotive morgue yields the name of more than 800 different brand names that have vanished from the U.S. market alone over the last century.  Some, like Packard and Olds, were immensely popular in their day, the latter General Motors division generating sales of more than a million as recently as the early-1980s.  Others, like Chrysler’s Eagle, were ill-conceived ventures that were given mercifully little time before being pulled from the market.

As Ford’s announcement that it will finally pull 71-year-old Mercury off life support underscores, the ongoing automotive sales crisis has led to the demise of more automotive brands than at any time since the Great Depression.  The question, analysts ask, is whether still more nameplates could vanish in the coming years?

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Is there room for a Suzuki, Mitsubishi or Saab, as well as Ram and Fiat?

(Click Here for more on Mercury’s demise. More on vanishing brands on the next page.)


Mercury Future Untangled

It’s still alive, but Lincoln is the favored son.

by on Mar.23, 2009

Change the badge and hope it works for Mercury?

Just change the badge and hope it works for the Mercury brand?

Mercury’s surprisingly high rating — fourth after Buick-Jaguar, Lexus and Toyota — in the just-announced J. D. Power vehicle dependability survey gave a needed boost to Ford Motor Company’s traditional “medium price” brand. 

Beginning a couple of years ago, financial analysts and many automotive writers were pronouncing the demise of the Mercury brand. The death sentence was furthered by Vegas investor Kerkorian’s ambassador to Detroit, Jerry York, who told the media that Ford Motor Company should “sell off” Mercury. 

If correctly quoted, York should have known better, because unlike the Wall Street analysts and most auto writers, he had considerable Detroit experience. One wisecrack by a Motor City vet put it this way: “Everything analysts know about the auto industry, they’ve learned from riding in New York City taxicabs.” 

York’s statement made no sense whatsoever because there was nothing to sell but the brand name, which was hardly the most sought-after following years of neglect and mis-direction by the Dearborn automaker. Mercury, once a stand-alone make established by the Ford Company in 1938, was integrated into corporate planning, engineering, purchasing, and powertrain and assembly production 50 years ago. Unlike a Jaguar or Land Rover or even Volvo, there are no Mercury assets for someone to buy outside the name. Mercurys are retailed by Lincoln-Mercury dealers except in rural areas and small towns where they are sold by Ford-Mercury or Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealers.  (more…)