Ford’s Lincoln brand has earned an interesting – and potentially dubious – distinction, the only major luxury brand to abandon the passenger car segment entirely.
The last Lincoln Continental sedan rolled off the line Oct. 30 at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant, following other models like the MKZ and MKS into that scrapyard in the sky. At this point, Lincoln is following the lead of its parent, as Ford has killed off all of its passenger car models with the exception of the Mustang.
The decision to kill the Continental – which generated a mere 6,586 sales in 2019, a nearly 25% decline from the previous year – reflects the broader shift away from sedans, coupes and sports cars as U.S. buyers by the millions migrate to SUVs and CUVs.
But Lincoln now becomes the only major luxury brand to walk away from the passenger car market entirely. True, Land Rover offers only SUVs, but that’s been its business model since the brand was founded more than seven decades ago.
And it is today paired with Jaguar, the fellow British marque still offering a mix of sedans and sports cars – though Jaguar also has been shifting focus to its better-selling crossovers, including the E-Pace and F-Pace.
Whether Lincoln will retain the distinction remains far from certain. The broad trend in the market has been to cut back on slow-selling passenger car models and focus on utility vehicles.
Nowhere is that more obvious than with German manufacturers like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The latter still offers a array of sedans and coupes, including the new E-Class family which includes a station wagon, as well. But Mercedes also has been rationalizing its line-up, recently abandoning its small SLC roadster.
Luxury brands that once looked with disdain at SUVs and CUVs now find they must offer them to avoid becoming irrelevant. Bentley’s Bentayga is now its best-selling model, and Aston Martin has the same expectations for its new DBX. Lamborghini has weighed in with the Urus and even Ferrari is set to follow with its Purosangue.
The question is whether Lincoln’s all-ute strategy marks a permanent shift or just one tied to current market conditions. Company officials have told TheDetroitBureau.com that they’re never going to say never again, but there are no plans in place, at least for the moment, to come in with an 11th-generation replacement for the Continental – or any other sedan or coupe, for that matter.
As the sales numbers reveal, the “Conti” went out with a whimper, rather than a bang. That was a big disappointment for Lincoln which received raves for the concept version is unveiled at the 2015 New York International Auto Show.
The production version that followed two years later received much less enthusiastic reviews after toning down some of the key design elements and other features of the show car that had generated so much buzz.
For decades, the Continental was a true flagship for the Ford Motor Co., the original model commissioned by Edsel Ford in 1938 as a one-off that he could drive around while wintering in Florida. The reaction to the design by Ford Chief Designer Eugene “Bob” Gregorie was overwhelming, convincing Ford to put it into production two years later, both in coupe and convertible versions.
The car went out of production in 1948 and didn’t reappear until eight years later, retaining the distinctive hump in the back of the trunk for the spare tire.
In 1995, a 10th-generation Lincoln Continental was launched, this time without the distinctive hump. But it became one of the first luxury models to allow owners to extensively program digital onboard functions. That didn’t go over well with potential owners, an older group who had trouble enough trying to program the clocks on their VCRs.
That model was dumped in 2002 and the Conti didn’t reappear once more until 2017, just in time for the luxury sedan market to start fading to black.
There had been some concerns that crosstown rival Cadillac might also give up the passenger car market. General Motors’ flagship brand has, indeed, cut back on that side of its line-up, most recently dropping the big CT6 sedan. But it has since launched two new four-door models, the CT4 and CT5 and, Caddy officials insist, they have no plan to follow Lincoln’s lead.