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Can a fresh face revive Lincoln?

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
I don't envy Jim Farley

On Sunday, Farley has to stand in front of a bunch of unhappy Lincoln dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention and convince them that Ford has a plan to resurrect the luxury brand.

Farley is the automaker's group vice president of global marketing, sales and service.

Here's my advice for Farley: Bring Lincoln's new design chief to San Francisco. He's the guy who can build dealer morale.

Max Wolff is the new guy in Dearborn, having moved across town from Cadillac, entrusted with creating the new design direction for Lincoln. Before joining Ford Jan. 3, Wolff was the design director for Cadillac exteriors, a position he held since 2007.

At General Motors, he held design positions that included a stint in South Korea at GM Daewoo Auto & Technology. There, Wolff helped design the Chevrolet Cruze.

Wolff, 38, is a native of Australia. He started his career at GM Holden, GM's Australia unit, in 1998.

Lincoln has been struggling. The brand's U.S. vehicle sales last year rose nearly 4 percent, to 85,828 units, in an overall market that increased 11 percent over 2009. Meanwhile, Cadillac's vehicle sales jumped nearly 35 percent last year, to 146,925.

Ford said Lincoln will introduce seven new or significantly revamped vehicles in the next four years. Wolff has a lot to do in a short amount of time.

But since Wolff's Ford career can be measured in weeks, he won't be able to unveil sketches at the dealer make meeting, showing the new direction of Lincoln design. In fact, the first concept showing the new styling direction won't be unveiled until some time next year, I'm told.

However, Wolff will be able to talk about the design team he is putting together, the strengths of the Lincoln brand and his vision for the brand.

He's a fresh face, an outsider, the perfect guy to instill confidence about the future of Lincoln.

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