Lincoln re-engineers, refreshes Navigator for 2015
DETROIT -- Lincoln's oldest remaining nameplate is getting a new look.
When Lincoln launched its reinvention plan in 2012, brand executives promised there would be four new vehicles by the end of 2016. Two have been unveiled: the MKZ sedan, already on sale, and the MKC compact crossover, due in the second quarter. Lincoln will launch a new vehicle in 2015 and again in 2016.
The re-engineered 2015 Navigator, which will go into production in late summer and on sale in early fall, does not count as one of those four, said Andrew Frick, group marketing manager of Lincoln.
So the big SUV will be a bonus for Lincoln dealers, who are hungry for more product. Lincoln's sales slid 1 percent in 2013 in a luxury market that rose 10 percent.
"This large utility, where we've been playing for so long, is a good place for us to invest," Frick told reporters at the media unveiling this week.
The Navigator sports the latest version of Lincoln's signature split-wing grille design, introduced last year on the MKZ. The redesigned rear end features LED taillights that extend the width of the vehicle, another signature element of Lincoln's new design language.
"It's our interpretation of the split-wing theme for a vehicle like the Navigator," said Max Wolff, Lincoln chief designer.
Inside is a new steering wheel wrapped in stitched leather. The redesigned center console features the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system, which includes buttons and knobs.
Ford's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 replaces the current 5.4-liter V-8. The smaller V-6, also used in the Ford F-150, will crank out more horsepower than the outgoing V-8 (370 hp to 310 hp) and more torque (430 pounds-feet to 365 pounds-feet).
The numbers are projections until EPA mileage testing.
On the tech front, the Navigator gets Lincoln Drive Control and Continuously Controlled Damping to adjust the ride depending on road conditions.
Elaine Bannon, Navigator chief engineer, said the SUV would have best-in-class towing capability at 9,000 pounds.
Lincoln will continue to offer the Navigator in long- and short-wheelbase versions (222.3 inches and 207.4 inches). Both come with three rows of seats. The Navigator provides seating for up to eight people. The long-wheelbase models have 128.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the first row of seats.
Lincoln is offering a Reserve Package model with 22-inch wheels and premium leather.
Frick said the Navigator has the highest customer loyalty of any Lincoln nameplate, at 75 percent.
He said Lincoln did not consider changing the Navigator name to fit Lincoln's MK badging convention.
"The Navigator name is one of the most recognized names in the luxury industry," Frick said. "It's a name we're going to carry forward."
Lincoln was a pioneer in the premium large luxury SUV segment when it introduced the Navigator in 1997.
In 1998, Navigator sales peaked at 43,859 and commanded 55 percent of the segment as the big SUV became a mainstay of the Lincoln franchise.
Cadillac introduced the Escalade a year later, but Lincoln held the segment sales lead until 2002, when Cadillac grabbed the top spot. The last year the Navigator outsold the Escalade was 2003.
Lincoln sales declined after that, but Navigator sales have held steady above 8,000 annually for the past five years.
The fact that Lincoln has been able to maintain a steady sales level is "fairly impressive with little to no advertising. They hardly ever talk about the vehicle," said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Automotive.
"The changes they made are important in that they're ones customers can see and feel immediately and they do improve the truck," she said.
IHS predicts that the changes will help the Navigator maintain its current sales level -- Lincoln sold 8,613 Navigators in 2013 -- but say it probably will not gain ground on the Infiniti QX80 and Escalade.
A redesigned Escalade for 2015 will go on sale in April.
Sales in the segment peaked at 167,435 units in 2006 and have slowly rebounded in recent years after dropping to 79,698 in 2009.
Lincoln considers the Escalade and Infiniti QX80 as the Navigator's chief competition, though the segment also includes two Range Rover models and the Mercedes-Benz GL that have also been redesigned in recent years.
The Navigator will be made at Ford's Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville.
Lincoln will unveil the 2015 Navigator to the public next month at the Chicago Auto Show, with pricing scheduled to be announced in April.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.