Lincoln is counting on the LS series, introduced here last week, to hold its newly won position as the best-selling U.S. luxury brand.
'This is an absolutely critical vehicle for us,' said Jim Rogers, Lincoln Mercury's general marketing manager.
Lincoln, which outsold Cadillac during the last six months, needs new and younger buyers. The Navigator luxury sport-utility that went on sale last summer started the job. Lincoln says 66 percent of Navigator buyers are new to the brand.
Now, Lincoln needs the LS6 and LS8 to do the same thing.
The Navigator has little competition, but the LS cars will square off with the best luxury cars in the business.
Ultimately, Lincoln wants to attract BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz buyers with the LS cars.
Like its German import rivals, the LS cars use longitudinally mounted engines to drive the rear wheels. Ford wanted a near 50-50 fore-and-aft weight distribution badly enough to locate the LS batteries in the trunk. Weight balance improves handling.
Behind the signature Lincoln vertical grille is a choice of two all-aluminum double-overhead-cam engines:
The LS6 uses a higher-performance variant of the Ford Taurus 3.0-liter 24-valve Duratech V-6. It was re-engineered for the Lincolns with stronger crankshaft and connecting-rod components and a new intake manifold.
The engine produces 200 hp, and is paired with the first manual transmission offered in a Lincoln in more than four decades.
The five-speed manual produced by Getrag Gears of North America Inc. will be an option on the LS6 only.
The LS8 uses a 3.9-liter, 32-valve V-8 based on the 4.0-liter AJV-8 in the Jaguar XK8 coupe. The engine produces 250 hp, and the LS8, like the LS6, comes with a choice of two new five-speed automatic transmissions, including a semi-automatic gearbox Ford calls SelectShift.
Drivers can leave it in automatic or manually shift gears by toggling the gear selector.
Rather than chase import owners when the LS cars go on sale early next year, however, Rogers says the division will target first-time luxury buyers.
'We think BMW and Mercedes-Benz buyers will consider the LS, but they won't buy it, not at first,' Rogers said.
But once the LS cars build a reputation, Rogers said some consumers will opt for them over competitors.
To build interest until the cars hit showrooms, Lincoln plans to:
Impress auto journalists with the LS cars' driving performance. Auto magazines often create enthusiasm for new cars.
Continue an Internet marketing campaign for the LS cars, which began two months ago. A traditional direct-mail campaign will augment the Internet effort.
Start a brand campaign to 'reinforce what we want Lincoln to stand for, which is luxury and exhilaration,' Rogers said.
Lincoln wants to change perceptions about the brand before the LS cars go on sale.
'We want people to get the feeling that we may have something relevant coming down the line,' Rogers said.
Although he declined to be specific, Lincoln General Manager James O'Connor said he expects to sell at least 17,000 to 25,000 LS cars annually. The cars will be assembled at Ford Motor Co.'s Wixom, Mich., assembly plant.
Executives have not announced LS prices, but they say the cars will be be in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.
Lincoln also plans to market the new cars globally. The two sedans, which also will be build in right-hand-drive versions, will be sold in more than 30 countries.
Japan and Europe will be primary export markets. Lincoln wants to sell 5,000 of its LS cars in Germany alone.
The cars will be badged as Lincolns overseas, not Fords. Lincoln will market the cars as luxury sport sedans, which does not fit Ford's brand image.
'We're pleasantly surprised every time we do research outside of the U.S.,' said Michelle Cervantaz, brand development manager at Ford Motor Co.'s large and luxury car vehicle center.
'Foreign focus groups know that a Lincoln is a luxury car, and they say that it is comfortable. That is a success that we can build on with (the LS).'