Global product expert in Lincoln driver's seat
Galhotra helped lead product offensive in Asia Pacific
Kumar Galhotra, poised to become Lincoln's new president, has years of experience working in China, where the brand is set to begin a product push.
DETROIT -- Last year at a restaurant in Shanghai, Kumar Galhotra gave a group of visiting automotive journalists a vivid, impromptu lesson in product design.
Placing an Apple iPhone 4 on the table alongside a newer iPhone 5, Galhotra explained that the older iPhone demonstrated "the law of perfect proportion" because of the ratio of its length to its width. The iPhone 5, which is longer than its predecessor but the same width, fell shy of perfection, he explained with a hint of a twinkle in his eye.
It was an animated, illuminating demonstration -- and it displayed the attention to detail that Galhotra, 48, will bring to his new position as president of Lincoln, a job he will assume Sept. 1. He also brings Lincoln the product expertise formed in a massive product push in China.
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Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields, in his first major personnel move since taking over on July 1, announced Galhotra's appointment last week among several changes in Ford's product development organization.
Galhotra, Ford vice president of engineering for the past year, will report directly to Fields. His promotion should give Lincoln more leeway to develop its own vehicles and break free of the "rebadged Ford" stigma that has dogged the brand for years.
In a statement, Fields said the change "makes clear we are serious about Lincoln as a world-class luxury brand."
Galhotra (gal-HOH'-truh) brings a global perspective to Lincoln. He is a native of the Punjab region of northern India who moved to Detroit as a young man and received his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, Dearborn.
Galhotra is intimately familiar with China, the world's largest auto market, where Lincoln is set to begin selling the MKZ mid-sized sedan and MKC small crossover late this year in a new network of dealerships.
While he was stationed in Shanghai from 2009 to 2013, Galhotra worked side by side with successive Ford Asia Pacific and Africa presidents Joe Hinrichs and David Schoch to launch about 50 new vehicles and powertrains in cooperation with Ford's joint venture partners. That product offensive has steadily boosted Ford's market share in China, where the company once was an also-ran. Ford said it posted record market share of 4.6 percent in China and 3.7 percent in the Asia Pacific and Africa in the second quarter.
He also led the team that developed Ford's new global Ranger compact pickup and held other international assignments including a stint in Hiroshima, Japan, as head of program management and product planning for Mazda.
Galhotra will be responsible for Lincoln exclusively. In contrast, Lincoln's current lead executive, Jim Farley, also is executive vice president responsible for marketing, sales and service for Ford and Lincoln worldwide.
Since taking charge of Lincoln on Dec. 1, 2012, Farley has spearheaded a drive to redefine the brand by transforming its customer service using practices borrowed from boutique luxury hotels. Farley will remain involved in Lincoln marketing efforts, the company said.
Lincoln also has launched a new generation of vehicles, designed in Lincoln's new dedicated studio.
Lincoln unveiled a concept version of the MKX crossover in April at the Beijing auto show. There have been rumors that Lincoln is working on a large flagship sedan to replace the luxury cruisers Lincoln was known for in its glory days.
Galhotra will need all his resourcefulness to rebuild a brand many had given up for dead. Lincoln's skimpy product portfolio, consisting of just six nameplates, is dwarfed by its larger competitors.
Lincoln last topped the U.S. luxury sales charts in 1998 with sales of 187,121. Since then, the brand has spiraled steadily downward. Last year, Lincoln sold just 81,694 vehicles in the United States, eighth among luxury carmakers and far behind the industry leaders Mercedes-Benz and BMW, both of which sold more than 300,000 vehicles. Lincoln's U.S. sales have increased 16 percent this year through June to 44,522, as the MKZ gained momentum.
Lincoln hasn't had its own president since Al Giombetti was president of the Lincoln-Mercury division from 2005 to 2007. And back then, the position was a marketing and sales job without the breadth of responsibility Galhotra will have.
Galhotra's direct reports will include Matt VanDyke, head of Lincoln global marketing, and Scott Tobin, who directs product development at Lincoln.
VanDyke had reported to Farley. Tobin will also continue to report to Raj Nair, Ford's chief of global product development.
Editor's note: When he first came to Michigan, Galhotra moved to Detroit and attended the University of Michigan, Dearborn. The location of his first home and campus were misstated in an earlier version of this story.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.