Lincoln MKZ concept: Next step in the brand's 'reinvention'
Photo credit: LINCOLN
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DETROIT -- Lincoln introduced a new MKZ concept car today that serves as a vision for the next generation of vehicles at Ford Motor Co.'s luxury brand.
Ford knows a lot is riding on the concept sedan's sleek shoulders at the Detroit auto show.
The company has made fitful attempts to revive Lincoln before, with little success. Now that Ford has sold its international luxury brands -- Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo -- Lincoln remains as the automaker's sole luxury standard bearer.
"With the Lincoln MKZ Concept, we are not introducing a new car. We are essentially introducing a new brand," Derrick Kuzak, Ford's group vice president of global product development, said in a statement. "The MKZ Concept is the next step in the reinvention of Lincoln, something we've been quietly but aggressively pursuing."
Photo credit: LINCOLN
Lincoln has not officially announced plans to make a production version. But the four-seat MKZ Concept is based on the same front-wheel-drive architecture as the new Ford Fusion, which is also making its debut at the show and will go on sale in the second half of this year. And Lincoln plans seven new or refreshed products by 2014, one of which undoubtedly will be a redesigned production MKZ.
A new vision of Lincoln can't come soon enough. The brand has been an also-ran in the luxury race for years, and Ford wants to change that.
In 2011, Lincoln finished with a 6.1 percent share of the luxury market, its smallest in the past five years.
After 11 years atop the U.S. luxury rankings, Lexus dropped to third place with a 14.0 percent share, due to supply disruptions following the March 11 earthquake in Japan. That allowed BMW to claim the luxury crown, as its 17.5 percent share edged out Mercedes-Benz's 17.3 percent. Cadillac, Lincoln's crosstown rival, took fourth place with 10.8 percent. Lincoln took eighth place, behind Acura, Audi and Infiniti.
Bill Wallace, a Lincoln dealer in Fort Pierce, Fla., hopes Lincoln will get it right this time.
"They've got to do what they did with Ford -- pick one or two cars, make a halo car and build the franchise around it," he said. "We need a halo car, something that really jumps out there as something that is really exciting and gets people talking about Lincoln."
"The MKZ Concept's shape is a vision of simplicity completed with just a few strokes," said Max Wolff, Lincoln's design director. "Our movement as a brand is toward something we call elegant simplicity. It's something warmer and more restrained, which is moving away from complex designs and traditional luxury."
The MKZ was designed at Lincoln's new, still-under-construction design studio in Dearborn, Mich., near Ford's headquarters.
The MKZ concept will mark a major departure from Lincoln's current design while keeping some design elements, such as a "more refined interpretation of the split-wing grille," Lincoln said in a press release.
The concept's dominant feature is a long, sweeping roofline that Lincoln calls a "significant break from the traditional sedan three-box shape."
AutoPacific Inc. analyst David Sullivan, who has seen the concept, says the new roofline resembles that of the Audi A7. "It's a love-it-or-hate-it design, but that's the way to go," he says.
A panoramic glass roof spans the roofline. LED taillights, popular these days in the luxury segment, will run the entire width of the rear.
"The front graphic is repeated in the dramatic sweep of the instrument panel, helping tie the interior to the exterior," Wolff said in a statement. "These flowing forms create a comfortable and functional interior that particularly appeals to the younger, more diverse customers we are targeting."
The champagne-colored leather seats feature a perforation pattern meant to conjure champagne bubbles rising to the top of the glass.
The dash features a push-button gear selector and liquid crystal display instrumentation along with the latest version of the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system.
Lincoln says the platform can accommodate multiple drivetrain options in front- and all-wheel-drive configurations.
The concept features Lincoln Drive Control and an adjustable suspension with what Ford calls Continuously Controlled Damping.
Photo credit: LINCOLN
"Lincoln is an important part of our company's success," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, said in a statement. "In any given year in the United States, the luxury segment is 11 to 13 percent of overall sales and it is important for us to win customers in the luxury market with strong new vehicles. That is a key reason we have invested so heavily in Lincoln."
During the past 14 months, Lincoln has been assembling a team of designers, engineers, marketing and sales executives and experts in quality and manufacturing. The brand also recently said it is forming a new, dedicated ad agency in New York.
Many of the designers have been working at the new 40,000-square-foot Lincoln Design Studio in Dearborn. When finished, the studio will house more than 180 modelers, engineers, stylists and designers. Wolff said this marks the first time Lincoln had its own studio since the 1970s.
New auto show display
The MKZ Concept will be the centerpiece of a new Lincoln auto show display that occupies the entire space once taken by Ford's former Premier Automotive Group luxury brands: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.
The stand, designed to evoke an art gallery, will feature works of art by Detroit artists. It will be staffed by luxury hotel-style greeters and product experts. All of it is geared to the "progressive luxury customer" Lincoln is seeking.
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