Lincoln prepares for fight with Lexus
Lincoln's U.S. sales have slipped 2 percent to 48,937 this year through July in an overall market that's up 14 percent.
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MONTEREY, Calif. -- Lincoln brand managers are training their sights on a new competitor as they prepare to reboot the marque with a new MKZ sedan this fall.
Lincoln is positioning the mid-sized 2013 MKZ to take a bite out of the Lexus ES, one of the Japanese luxury brand's biggest volume products.
The Lincoln sedan is priced to retail at $36,800, including freight, slightly under the Lexus ES, which has also been redesigned for 2013.
Lincoln is aiming the car's marketing at new demographic groups, seeking to align itself with a luxury import customer base. The brand also is reshaping its retail chain to take the kind of concierge approach to customers that Lexus pioneered in the early 1990s.
Lincoln's U.S. sales have slipped 2 percent to 48,937 this year through July in an overall market that's up 14 percent. Lexus' U.S. sales have rebounded 23 percent to 126,367 this year after the March 2011 earthquake in Japan caused inventory shortages.
Lexus already is considering how to bolster the ES' market position. Last week Jim Lenz, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A, revealed that Toyota may move ES production from Japan to North America to offset the effects of a strong yen.
While showing the new MKZ to a small group of reporters here this weekend at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Lincoln executives mentioned Lexus and the ES several times.
Lincoln's historic competitor has been Cadillac. But those days are about to end, says C.J. O'Donnell, Lincoln group marketing manager.
"Lincoln and Cadillac are now moving in two different directions," O'Donnell says. "People are probably going to continue comparing our results to Cadillac's because they are the competitor across the street in our hometown. But it's no longer who we are. We're now facing off against new competitors, including Lexus and Audi."
Lincoln's revamped 2013 MKZ is targeting one of Lexus' top-selling models -- the ES.
O'Donnell says the strategic shift will pull Lincoln away from its traditional customer base, which he said lacks the affluence and size of new demographic groups Lincoln is targeting.
He said the new Lincoln customer "is more open-minded, and they are not locked in to a single luxury brand.
"And they are more likely to live outside the Central States where our customers are now concentrated," he said, alluding to the Detroit 3's traditional challenge in penetrating strong import markets in the Sunbelt.
New dealership experience
Ken Czubay, Ford Motor Co. vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, said that Lincoln's repositioning also will require a new dealership experience.
About 10 Lincoln retailers are now going through a pilot program with a newly created "Lincoln Training Academy" that was established to teach dealership sales and service personnel how to handle customers better.
All Lincoln dealers will receive training from Les Clefs d'Or, a national organization that trains hotel concierges. Lexus was famous for the customer-pampering techniques used by its retailers to win loyalty.
"Part of relaunching the Lincoln brand depends on new products and technology, and part of it depends on how we market those products," Czubay said. "But the third part of it will be the dealership experience.
"We're creating a new retail environment for Lincoln customers that will take a lot of people by surprise."
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