Lincoln: New boss, new market, new hope
Lincoln has been stuck in the backwaters of the luxury market for several years as its product portfolio has aged and its dealer network has shrunk.
But the brand is showing signs of life as Ford Motor Co.'s reinvention of Lincoln gains momentum.
New Ford CEO Mark Fields, in his first major personnel move, named Ford's top engineer, Kumar Galhotra, as president of Lincoln, effective Sept. 1. Having a veteran product development engineer in the top post is good news for Lincoln, which has been starved for new products.
Another sign of bigger things to come: Lincoln is entering China late this year. Ford hopes that the world's largest auto market, with a voracious appetite for luxury, will be a lifeline for Lincoln and create product momentum.
Lincoln, which has struggled to establish a consistent design language, has another chief designer. In December, David Woodhouse quietly replaced Max Wolff, who is remaining as chief exterior designer. Lincoln watchers will be waiting to see if the brand sticks with the split-wing grille theme introduced by Wolff on the 2013 MKZ sedan. The MKX Concept, introduced in April at the Beijing auto show, has a toned-down version of the grille.
At year end, Lincoln will begin rolling out top-of-the-line Black Label trim levels for certain nameplates including the MKZ and MKC compact crossover.
Here is a look at Lincoln's future product plans.
MKZ: The redesigned mid-sized sedan arrived in 2013. The MKZ is due for a minor freshening in mid-2015 for the 2016 model year. If Lincoln follows the path charted by the MKC, as expected, the brand will replace the sliding touch controls on the MKZ's center console with knobs and buttons, at least for infotainment and climate controls. An MKZ redesign is due at the end of the decade.
MKS or full-sized sedan: A full-sized sedan is one of the hottest talking points for Lincoln, which built its once-lofty reputation on such cars. Lincoln has said it will bring a full-sized sedan to market.
Ford Motor is working on a flagship Lincoln sedan, known internally as the Continental. It has a transverse-mounted front engine and all-wheel drive. A spy photo this summer showed a large luxury sedan with a grille strongly resembling those of current Jaguars.
Lincoln promised four new vehicles in four years, so the MKS replacement -- if it is still called MKS -- should arrive late in the second quarter or early in the third of 2016 as a 2017 model.
Sources say the MKS likely will follow the Taurus and trade its aging Volvo platform for a stretched version of Ford's global CD4 front-wheel-drive platform with awd as an option.
The MKS has been criticized for its cramped rear seat; Lincoln will need a more spacious rear compartment for demanding Chinese customers.
The MKC crossover joined the lineup this year.
MKC: The 2015 compact cross-over is new to the lineup. It is the first Lincoln to get Ford Motor's new 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine. The only other engine option is a 2.0-liter EcoBoost.
The track is about an inch wider than the sibling Ford Escape. The two vehicles share no sheet metal. The MKC is the first vehicle crafted in Lincoln's dedicated design studio. It features a wraparound liftgate and the latest iteration of Lincoln's split-wing grille. Lincoln made a significant change from the concept to the production version -- switching from sliding touch-screen controls to knobs and buttons for the infotainment and climate systems. Lincoln officials say they listened to customer feedback on the MKZ's center console.
MKX: The 2015 mid-sized cross-over arrives this fall with some minor changes from the 2014 model. But major changes are just around the corner. Lincoln showed the sleek MKX Concept in April at the Beijing auto show, the first time the brand unveiled a concept vehicle outside the United States.
The redesigned MKX, which will share Ford Motor's global CD4 platform with the Ford Edge, should arrive in the United States early in the second half of 2015 as a 2016 model. The MKX Concept was an exterior design study only. Lincoln gave no hints about its interior or powertrain plans. Sources say the MKX could get a new 3.0-liter EcoBoost engine. The MKX Concept lacked the MKC's wraparound liftgate but did share the full-width LED taillights, which are part of Lincoln's new design language.
Navigator: Lincoln's big, truck-based SUV gets a redesign -- including the likely switch to an aluminum body -- in the second half of 2016 for the 2017 model year.
For now, Lincoln has re-engineered the 2015 model. The Navigator, Lincoln's oldest current nameplate, gets Ford Motor's 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which replaces the 5.4-liter V-8. It also has the latest version of Lincoln's split-wing grille design and full-width LED taillights. 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 2015 model gets the latest version of the MyLincoln Touch infotainment system.
MKT: Despite slow sales, this full-sized crossover, Lincoln's slowest seller, likely will stick around beyond the 2015 model year, according to company and union sources. The MKT, based on a Volvo platform, sells mainly to airport and hotel livery fleets. Through the first seven months of 2014, U.S. MKT sales were just 3,153.
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.