SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Several years ago, Lincoln planners were at a crossroads. They had chosen the redesigned 2013 MKZ mid-sized sedan as the first vehicle in their campaign to revive the brand. But what should be next?
They could take Lincoln's traditional path with a large luxury sedan or strike out in a different direction with an entry in a segment new to the brand.
The latter course prevailed.
"There was a lot of debate about whether we should go for a full-sized sedan, but I'm so excited this was the car we decided to do," said Matt VanDyke, director of global Lincoln, standing in front of the 2015 MKC compact crossover at the media launch here. "This gives us a completely new nameplate."
Key factors that tipped the debate in the MKC's favor: youth, demographics and China.
Before Lincoln began its reinvention, its average customer was age 64, among the oldest of any marque. Many of its traditional buyers clamored for a replacement for the Town Car, a full-sized sedan that was discontinued in 2012.
To survive, Lincoln needed to get younger people into its showrooms. When the MKZ debuted, the brand began wooing customers with promotions such as "Date Night," in which Lincoln bought shoppers dinner if they took a test drive.
The MKZ began attracting a younger crowd. Andrew Frick, general marketing manager, said most MKZ buyers are ages 45 to 60.
But Frick says Lincoln market research shows the MKC will lure even younger buyers, those ages 35 to 49. That's in keeping with data on the compact luxury crossover segment, one of the fastest growing in the industry.
"This gives us more of an entry point for the luxury buyer," Frick says.
Lincoln also expects the MKC to draw more female consumers, Frick says. About 60 percent of MKZ customers are men, but Frick projects the MKC mix will split evenly between men and women.
Then there is China. Luxury crossovers are just as hot in China as in the United States.
In April at the Beijing auto show, Lincoln showed a concept version of the MKX, the MKC's big brother. A production version is likely next year, the third of the four new vehicles Lincoln has promised in four years.
Which brings Lincoln back to the full-sized sedan question. Chinese customers, many of whom are chauffeured, also love roomy back seats with high-tech amenities.
"We also mentioned in China that the fourth product will be a full-sized sedan," VanDyke said. After the MKX mid-sized crossover, which should arrive next year, the redesigned MKS is likely to follow in 2016.
For Lincoln the challenge will be to make a big sedan that appeals to traditional customers and modern consumers alike, and that sells in sufficient numbers to justify the investment.
• 2013: MKZ mid-sized sedan
• Spring 2014: MKC compact crossover
• Fall 2014: Navigator full-sized SUV
• 2015: MKX mid-sized crossover
• 2016: MKS full-sized sedan