Lincoln's next step is a compact crossover

Automotive News | August 18, 2012 - 4:45 pm EST

MONTEREY, Calif. -- The next step in the reinvention of Lincoln is no baby step, it's a compact crossover.

Lincoln is focusing its efforts on luxury's twin towers -- the huge and ever-expanding C segment sedan and crossover categories, usually classified by BMW's 3 series on one side and the Lexus RX on the other. And Lincoln is avoiding the really pricey niches that account for about 10 percent of luxury sales.

Here at Pebble Beach, Cadillac kept up the drum beat for the top-tier BMW-Mercedes sedan strata. It showed renderings of a concept car that will appear at a 2013 auto show, hinting at a flagship rear-driver to challenge the 7-series and S-class.

That's a class Lincoln is going to skip for the time being as it works on the fundamentals of the brand.

Indeed, depending on your definition of flagship, it sounds as though Lincoln executives are prepared to forego having a flagship indefinitely.

But do the brand's self-imposed limitations really suggest its stewards have no interest in a halo car.

"I don't think it says that," says Lincoln product development chief Scott Tobin.

"The segments are fundamentally the small, and medium premium utilities, the D-segment, and the C or C-D (sedans)," he said.

And that D-segment (Taurus-sized) car can be a full-fledged halo car, he says.

"That is kind of where I would put a car like that. The next reincarnation of that would be the next generation MKS," Tobin said. "I can see us with a D-segment flagship vehicle. I think we would have to do that. We're not ruling it out by any means. We're working on that."

But go much beyond a luxury sedan that is a cousin of the Taurus and you are into areas Lincoln can't really fool with at the moment.

"The other 10 percent is some of the really kind of niche stuff," Tobin said. "We look at that, don't get me wrong. We are always playing around with ideas. But we know we have to be competitive in those core areas, get your piece of the pie, then we'll play around with some of the other things."

And what about the compact crossover?

"That small premium utility segment is growing" said Tobin. "It's a the fastest growing segment."

So don't be surprised if two years from now at Pebble, we'll see just such a Lincoln -- using the same architecture as the Ford Escape, but with completely different sheet metal.

Still, the subject of immediate attention is the MKZ coming this fall -- the 3-series/C-class fighter that Galpin Ford megadealer Beau Boeckmann is salivating to get his hands on.

"We can't can wait to get that car out here," said Boeckmann as he looked out at an MKZ sitting a few steps from the 18th Green at Pebble Beach. "That's what we need in Los Angeles.

"I'm extremely excited about the future of Lincoln," said the Galpinizer, ultimate cool California dealer. "This an extremely capable Lincoln management team and they are playing to win rather than playing not to lose."

Richard Johnson is managing editor of Automotive News.Richard Johnson is managing editor of Automotive News.

PRINTED FROM: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120818/BLOG06/120819856&template=printart

Entire contents © 2014 Crain Communications, Inc.