NEW YORK -- Next year will mark the beginning of Lincoln's sales recovery, Ford Motor Co. executives predict.
The 2006 Zephyr sedan and 2007 Aviator sport wagon will carry the struggling luxury brand to its first annual sales increase since 2003, they say.
Lincoln's turnaround will depend mostly on the Zephyr, which went on sale this fall. The Aviator won't go on sale until late next year.
The two vehicles "begin the progression of Lincoln being relevant in the marketplace again," Elena Ford, Ford's director of North America product marketing, planning and strategy, said at a press event here last week.
Executives won't say how much of a sales increase they expect.
In 1990, Lincoln sales peaked at 231,660 units. The best the luxury unit has done since then was 193,009 sales in 2000. Aside from a brief upturn in 2003, sales have fallen steadily this decade. Through September, Lincoln sales totaled 93,700 units, down 10.1 percent from the year-ago period.
It will take more than the Zephyr and Aviator to return the brand to glory.
Lincoln will introduce more vehicles after 2006. Two large sedans will go on sale starting in 2007. At least one of the sedans is likely to appear as a concept car at the Detroit auto show in January.
With those two sedans, Lincoln aims to revive its bread-and-butter large-car business.
Lincoln also is developing a people mover and is studying a sporty coupe based on the Ford Mustang.
Lincoln has said it wants to boost retail sales to 200,000 annually. By the end of the decade, dealers will have at least eight Lincoln nameplates in their showrooms, company executives have said.
That's up from six today -- the Aviator, LS, Town Car, Navigator, Zephyr and Mark LT. The truck-based Aviator ended production in July, and the LS sedan will be discontinued next year.
Improvements for the Mark LT pickup also are likely down the road. Lincoln sold 5,927 units of the lightly reworked Ford F-150 from its February debut through September. That's well behind its annual target of 20,000 units.
Said Elena Ford: "We could do more to Lincoln-ize it, frankly."
You may e-mail Amy Wilson at [email protected]