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Lincoln sees MKS as vehicle to drive brand's comeback

“Our Lincoln brand health is not where we want it to be,” says Pei-Wen Hsu, left, marketing manager for the MKS.
WASHINGTON — With the 2009 MKS, Lincoln marketers say they finally have a flagship sedan that can help rebuild the brand.

The MKS is expected to attract mainly older Lincoln loyalists. But to make the brand relevant again, marketers also want to appeal to Generation X consumers — those born between 1965 and 1981.

"Our Lincoln brand health is not where we want it to be," said Pei-Wen Hsu, MKS marketing manager. Lincoln's new products are "helping us to change that mind-set," she said.

In the past couple of years, Lincoln's retail sales have risen with the introductions of the smaller MKZ sedan and MKX crossover. But total Lincoln sales are near 25-year lows. Overall sales rose 9.1 percent in 2007 to 131,487 vehicles.

Lincoln is targeting the rwd Cadillac STS with its lower-priced, fwd MKS.
 ’09 Lincoln MKS’09 Cadillac STS
Wheelbase112.9 in.116.4 in.
Length204.1 in.196.3 in.
Width75.9 in.72.6 in.
Height61.6 in.57.6 in.
Curb weight4,127 lbs.3,973 lbs.
Base engine3.7-liter V-63.6-liter V-6
Horsepower273 @ 6,250 rpm302 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.270 @ 4,250 rpm272 @ 5,200 rpm
EPA mpg17 city/24 hwy.*17 city/26 hwy.
Base price  
(incl. freight)$38,465$45,290

Through the first five months of this year, Lincoln sales dropped 22.5 percent. The MKS is scheduled to be on sale by the end of June, and Lincoln officials expect a sales increase in the second half of 2008.

The MKS does not replace the bigger Town Car, but it becomes the de facto large-car entry in Lincoln's retail showrooms. The Town Car is now targeted at fleet buyers, although dealers still can order it for retail customers.

The basics: The MKS is based on Ford Motor Co.'s D3 platform, which also underpins the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable sedans. The MKS is built at the Chicago assembly plant. Powering the sedan is a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that produces 273 hp and is exclusive to Lincoln. All-wheel drive is optional.

Notable features: In launch advertising, Lincoln touts the technology offerings on the MKS. Features include Sync, Ford's voice-activated vehicle communications system; Sirius Travel Link, which provides a music jukebox and real-time traffic and gasoline price information; and a THX-branded audio system with surround sound.

Design: The MKS showcases Lincoln's new design palette. Signature Lincoln touches include a split front grille. The car's sheet metal is distinctive from its sister vehicle, the Taurus. That's a boon for Lincoln, which has had to share sheet metal on the MKX and MKZ with Ford brand siblings.

2009 Lincoln MKS
Compromises and shortcomings: The front-wheel-drive MKS goes up against competitors with rear-wheel drive, which some luxury buyers prefer. Also, some dealers and customers grumbled when Ford canceled a V-8 engine for the MKS: How could an American luxury brand offer a true flagship without a V-8?

With rising fuel prices and a higher-powered V-6 waiting in the wings, the lack of a V-8 could turn out OK for Lincoln. But that more robust V-6 — a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter expected to produce 340 hp — won't arrive until the 2010 model year.

The market: Lincoln is putting the MKS up against the Cadillac STS, Lexus GS 350, Acura RL and Infiniti M35. MKS pricing starts at $38,465, including shipping, and rises to more than $50,000 fully loaded.

At that price range, Lincoln aims to undercut the competition by $5,000 to $10,000, Hsu said. Lincoln wants to sell about 19,000 MKS sedans in 2008 and around 36,000 in 2009, she said.

The skinny: The MKS doesn't stand head and shoulders above competitors. But it is attractive and well-priced, and it gives Lincoln a chance to make up ground in the large-luxury-sedan segment. 

You can reach Amy Wilson at awilson@crain.com

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