While Ford Motor Co. officials want to shine the spotlight on their near-term plans for a Lincoln renaissance, they are already working up some aggressive product programs that would include the addition of one or more rear-wheel-drive models to the luxury brand’s line-up.
The strategy would continue to see Lincoln share most of its underlying platforms with the mainstream Ford brand, however, including the next-generation Mustang.
“Rear-wheel-drive is definitely in the works,” one of Ford’s top executives confirmed in a background conversation with TheDetroitBureau.com.
That executive downplayed rumors that Ford might look to partner with another luxury brand on one or more future products, however.
That’s becoming an increasingly common strategy as makers race to fill the “white space” between traditional luxury products. Nissan’s high-line Infiniti, for example, will share the MFA platform Mercedes-Benz has developed for it’s a- and B-Class offerings.
Lincoln, however, will go it alone or, more precisely, simply continue sharing products with the Ford brand. But it appears that beyond borrowing the Mustang platform, the up-market marque may also take lead in the development of another rear-wheel-drive model.
Lincoln has been criticized for limiting itself to front-wheel-drive products, counter to the traditional approach in the luxury market. Company officials, including new brand boss Jim Farley, have defended that position – and they point to Audi whose products are mostly front-drive or are offered with all-wheel-drive options. Even BMW is preparing to offer a new front-drive model.
Like Audi, Lincoln officials have confirmed that, going forward, most or all of their products will be available with all-wheel-drive options.
Lincoln is in the midst of a major transformation as parent Ford attempts to see whether the brand can be revitalized. Sales are down sharply from the marque’s 1990 peak and have continued sliding this year even as the rest of the luxury market has posted sharp gains.
The first test will come with the imminent launch of the new MKZ sedan. Three other models will follow by 2014, including a remake of the bigger MKS sedan and the Navigator full-size SUV. A compact crossover is also in the works based on the latest Ford Escape platform.
(Lincoln gets new name, aggressive launch ad campaign. Click Herefor that story.)
But at a background session earlier this month, Lincoln officials offered a few hints that more is in the works, Rich Kreder, the MKZ’s vehicle integration manager, referring to the sedan as just “the first really important step in reinventing Lincoln.”
Clearly, four products don’t a luxury brand make. Mercedes-Benz is in the midst of a multi-year offensive that will see it update or add more than a dozen different models. BMW and Audi are not far behind.
But Ford isn’t willing to fully commit to anywhere near that level of investment – not unless and until it gets a clear sense that the first wave of new models, starting with the MKZ, will click with consumers.
The problem is that product development is a lengthy process, requiring anywhere from three to more than five years for a ground-up program. So, several ranking Ford executives acknowledged, they’ve got to at least begin work on Lincoln’s future models now. They could still scuttle those efforts if the MKZ and the three models to follow fail to deliver on expectations.
In fact, Ford CEO Alan Mulally has made it clear for a number of years that he’s in favor of abandoning Lincoln – as he did Mercury – if the luxury marque doesn’t turn itself around.
Insiders declined to discuss Lincoln’s future products in much depth, though TheDetroitBureau.com has learned that the focus will be more on entry and mid-level offerings that could include additional crossovers.
“Flagship sedans and sports cars have become less of a factor,” said new global Lincoln director Matt VanDyke during this month’s background session.
His new position underscores another big change at the Ford luxury brand. After years of insisting it is an American brand with no aspirations beyond North American borders, company officials recently announced plans for a global roll-out that will begin with a push into China.
As part of its transformation, Lincoln is getting a new name – or more precisely, it will go back to its original name, Lincoln Motor Co., adopted when Henry Ford purchased the brand from automotive pioneer Henry Leland in 1922.
Lincoln also has gotten a new design studio headed by Max Wolff. The stylist has confirmed that going forward, Lincoln products will now adopt the horizontal grille, which he likens to an eagle’s open wings, debuting on the MKZ.