Zephyr sedan attracting new, younger buyers, Lincoln execs say

Lincoln says its new Zephyr is taking buyers from luxury, import rivals.
Sales numbers for the new Lincoln Zephyr show that the luxury brand can reach beyond its base of older, repeat buyers, company executives say.

Two of every five Zephyr buyers are trading in vehicles other than Ford or Lincoln-Mercury cars and trucks, Lincoln says. The Honda Accord and Nissan Maxima are among the top nameplates for Zephyr trade-ins, says Lincoln brand manager Tom Grill.

"That's something that we haven't seen in a long time," Grill told Automotive News. "It's a good start for us."

Lincoln introduced the Zephyr last fall. In the mid-sized sedan's first two months on the market, Grill says, "Zephyrs were sold to mostly returning Lincoln customers, who were turning in LS (cars), Town Cars and Continentals." But since then, he says, "Each month we see the conquest number growing."

The auto Web site Edmunds.com says the Zephyr attracts consumers who also are interested in cars such as the Accord, Acura TL, BMW 3 Series, Buick Lucerne, Toyota Avalon and Infiniti G35.

"Zephyr's (Web) site traffic has basically doubled" since the car's introduction, says Jeremy Anwyl, president of Edmunds.com. "Leads have had a fivefold increase, if not more. People generally like what they see when they look at the vehicle."

The average age of a Lincoln buyer is around 60. The typical Town Car buyer is "well into the 70s," Grill says. But the average age of Zephyr buyers in the first three weeks of March was 56, reports J.D. Power and Associates' Power Information Network.

The Power network notes that Lincoln is placing heavy incentives on the Zephyr. In February, those incentives amounted to $4,293 per Zephyr, Power says, compared with $1,782 per car for the entry-luxury segment overall.

Susan Jacobs, a luxury-auto marketing consultant in Rutherford, N.J., says Lincoln's early results with the Zephyr are encouraging. But the brand has a long way to go before its leaders can declare a turnaround, she says.

"They have to be generating these kinds of numbers with (all) their new products," Jacobs says. "It's a baby step in the right direction."

Jacobs says Lincoln has been "living off repeat business for years." It needs to show successes other than the Zephyr and to improve customer service at its dealerships, she says.

Zephyr advertising appears to be hitting its target. In late February, Harris Interactive, a market research firm in Rochester, N.Y., surveyed 1,251 consumers ages 30-54 with annual household incomes above $75,000, after they watched Zephyr TV commercials. Most said they would consider buying a Lincoln, Harris says.

An earlier survey involving other Lincoln vehicles achieved a 38 percent consideration rate.

Lincoln's scheduled switch to alphabetic vehicle names poses another marketing challenge. Starting this fall, Lincoln plans to rename the Zephyr the MKZ.

Grill says he and other Lincoln marketing executives are talking with consumers this month about ways to communicate the name change. Jacobs says the new name could slow the Zephyr's progress by creating confusion for car buyers.

In March, Lincoln sold 3,218 Zephyr sedans. During the first three months of 2006, it sold 7,784.

Amy Wilson contributed to this report

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