Lincoln's decision to enter China might seem tangential to the success of the brand's U.S. dealers. But Bill Knight, chairman of the Lincoln National Dealer Council for 2013, sees a clear connection. When Lincoln said in August that it would enter China in 2014, "that was very exciting," says Knight, who owns Bill Knight Lincoln in Tulsa, Okla. "That means we can get our own platforms."
Every dealer hopes, he says, that Lincoln's sales in China, the world's largest auto market, will provide "the scale to lead us down that path. Today, from a dollars and cents standpoint, the volume can't justify such a program."
Lincoln has not talked about future products beyond 2014. The MKZ is arriving in dealerships now. At the Detroit auto show last month, Lincoln showed the MKC Concept, a compact crossover that is expected to arrive in 2014. The MKX crossover will follow, along with redesigns of the MKS sedan and Navigator SUV. Those vehicles share platforms with Ford-brand vehicles.
Knight says Lincoln dealers are looking for a brighter 2013 now that new products such as the MKZ are on the way, Lincoln Financial Services is up and running, the dealer network is smaller and a new Lincoln Dealer Academy is in the works.
He was impressed that Bill Ford, Ford Motor Co.'s executive chairman, took the stage at Lincoln's Detroit auto show press conference and spoke of his family's enduring commitment to the brand, as Lincoln unveiled the MKC Concept.
"That excited me as much as the product," he says.
"We no longer talk about Ford's commitment to the brand. People ask me all the time" about the automaker's attempt to revive the Lincoln brand, he says. "Do I think it will work? My answer is I don't know.
"But this is what I do know: I will take my chances with what Ford is giving us. They're giving us their best and brightest. I will take my chances with Jim Farley, Matt VanDyke, Kevin Cour and Andrew Frick," Lincoln's executive sales and marketing team.
Knight says Lincoln dealers must be realistic about how long it will take for the brand to bounce back.
"Will we be the No. 1 luxury brand tomorrow? No. But it's going to be better."