Lincoln overhaul may be last chance to salvage Ford's luxury brand

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.
This is Lincoln's last chance.

Get it right or fade away forever.

Two months ago, I wrote a blog commenting on Ford Motor Co.'s plans to reinvent the Lincoln brand. A press release issued this summer said Lincoln would introduce seven all-new or refreshed vehicles in the next four years. No details were provided.

Since then, Lincoln dealers got a glimpse of the future. Images of several new vehicles were unveiled earlier this month. Dealers had an opportunity for input. I hope they were brutally honest when the wraps were removed.

In my opinion, this likely is Ford's last chance to save Lincoln. These new vehicles are expected to be offered in Lincoln's lineup till around 2020, assuming there are sufficient sales. There's no reason to expect Ford to try again beyond 2020 if this strategy fails to draw buyers to Lincoln dealerships.

Lincoln dealers need to ask a basic question: What is Lincoln? Is it a premium or a luxury brand? Is it near luxury? I've heard all of the above in my dealings with the automaker. There's confusion at Ford Motor, let alone in the marketplace.

When I think of luxury, BMW and Mercedes-Benz come to mind. So does Audi.

Lincoln is not a luxury brand -- today.

If it wants to be a legitimate luxury contender, Lincoln needs a wide range of models, various sizes, to compete with BMW's 3, 5 and 7 series and Mercedes' C, E and S classes, for example, or Audi's A4, A6 and A8.

Additionally, each new Lincoln requires head-turning styling, something lacking in today's lineup, plus styling that is not similar to the Ford brand.

Lincoln needs technology and powertrains that are not shared with the Ford brand.

Some might argue that each Lincoln model needs to be rear-drive, too. However, Audi's success proves that rwd is not a necessity.

Lincoln requires a radical change. However, history shows that Ford rates a poor grade for managing luxury brands. Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover are gone. Ditto for Volvo.

This is Lincoln's last chance to get it right. Otherwise, the brand eventually will fade away, just like one of the automaker's other brands, Mercury.