Kelley's job No. 1: Gain trust

Tall order
Kelley's top tasks at LM
  • Earn dealers' respect
  • Improve vehicle quality
  • Deliver new product to Lincoln
  • Launch 8 new or updated models in 15 months
  • Improve dealer profits
  • Craft new brand images, design themes for Lincoln and Mercury

  • DETROIT -- As the new president of Lincoln Mercury, Brian Kelley's biggest job is gaining the respect of dealers desperate for new products as the economy sours.

    Kelley, 40, joined Ford Motor Co. as the company's Internet wunderkind in 1999 and was given his new job Thursday, Oct. 11.

    For Lincoln Mercury retailers, the big question is how an executive with less than three years' experience in the industry will handle such a far-reaching job.

    As Lincoln Mercury president, Kelley's oversight extends beyond marketing vehicles. He will oversee car and truck product development, engineering and design and run two assembly plants. In January 1999, Lincoln Mercury became an autonomous business within Ford's Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands.

    Moreover, he arrives at Lincoln Mercury at a pivotal time.

    The company has ambitious plans to reinvent Lincoln. It is devising a design theme and plans to offer many rear-wheel-drive models. Kelley also is charged with strengthening the lackluster Mercury brand by hiring a Mercury designer and adding products, including a Mercury Villager minivan replacement and an updated Mercury Cougar.

    "What Mr. Kelley has to do as soon as possible is get out and meet with as many dealers as possible. Dealers are going to look at him as a no-experience guy," said Dennis Zawalich, chairman of the Lincoln Mercury National Dealer Council. "They will be questioning why he is in this position. But Brian will bring a lot to the table and he is inheriting a great team."

    Where's Lincoln convertible?

    Kelley declined an interview. He will replace Mark Hutchins, 56, who will retire after 37 years with Ford.

    Dealers will ask Kelley to deliver three things: better-built vehicles; new products, including a Lincoln convertible and all-wheel-drive luxury car or wagon; and improved dealer profits, Zawalich said. Zawalich is president of Burlington Lincoln-Mercury in Burlington, N.J.

    Improving vehicle quality is the dealers' No. 1 priority, he said.

    Second, Lincoln dealers feel left out as Ford Motor nurtures the Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar brands within Premier Automotive Group. Lincoln retailers want a convertible and an all-wheel-drive version of the Lincoln LS or an awd wagon variant derived from the LS platform, Zawalich said.

    "Ford has the new Thunderbird. Jaguar has a convertible. Where is our convertible?" Zawalich said. Critical dealers charge that Lincoln too often plays catch-up.

    Through nine months this year, Lincoln sales were down 19.6 percent, compared with a drop of 5.7 percent for the U.S. market.

    In the next 15 months, Lincoln and Mercury will introduce eight new or freshened vehicles.

    The updated lineup includes:

  • The 2002 Lincoln Blackwood, Lincoln's first sport-utility pickup.

  • A reskinned 2003 Lincoln Town Car.

  • A freshened 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis.

  • A new 2003 Mercury Marauder high-performance sedan based on the Grand Marquis.

  • A reskinned 2003 Lincoln Navigator.

  • A new 2003 Lincoln Aviator sport-utility based on the redesigned Ford Explorer arriving by mid-2002 calendar year.

  • A reskinned 2004 Lincoln LS arriving at the end of 2002 or early 2003.

  • A 2003 or 2004 Mercury Villager minivan replacement based on the Ford Windstar.

    "Now, Mr. Kelley has to get us the next wave of products as quickly as possible," Zawalich said.

    Lincoln also will introduce a concept flagship sedan at the Los Angeles auto show in January. And Mercury may rework the Cougar.

    Internet whiz

    Kelley will report to Wolfgang Reitzle, CEO of the Premier Automotive Group. Two assembly plants report to Kelley: the Wixom, Mich., assembly plant and the St. Thomas, Ontario, plant.

    Kelley built his career in sales and marketing at General Electric Co.'s Appliance Division and at Procter & Gamble Co.

    In 1999, Ford CEO Jacques Nasser hired Kelley to oversee an ambitious Internet strategy and manage a wide range of e-commerce ventures. Kelley's job included overseeing Ford's now defunct and dealer derided Auto Collections, a strategy in which Ford invested in dealerships. In March, Kelley was named vice president of global consumer services for Ford.

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