DETROIT -- After a problem-plagued launch of the 2013 MKZ, Lincoln executives say the product pipeline is filling and the business is beginning to find normal levels.
"We're going to have our best sales ever for MKZ" when results for May are reported on Monday, June 3, said Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co. executive vice president of global marketing, sales, service and Lincoln. The previous May record for the MKZ was 3,092 units in 2007.
However, sales for the Lincoln brand overall will be "flat or slightly down" for the month, said Matt VanDyke, global head of marketing sales and service for Lincoln.
While sales of the MKZ, the newest car in the lineup, have gained strength, sales of other models have languished.
"Car shoppers are really falling in love with Z. That's putting pressure on the S," VanDyke said, referring to the MKZ's larger stablemate, the MKS sedan, which was refreshed for the 2013 model year. MKS sales peaked last May and will likely be off slightly this month, he said.
'A long, long road'
The Lincoln brand continues to struggle to gain traction in a crowded luxury field. Lincoln sold 23,514 vehicles in the first four months of 2013, putting it in eighth place in the segment. The luxury leader, Mercedes-Benz, sold 92,822 units in the same period.
Farley said: "We're encouraged by MKZ sales in May, but we have a long, long road to rebuild this brand." Lincoln has heralded the MKZ as the first of a new generation of Lincolns geared for younger buyers.
Sales of the MKZ Hybrid have been particularly strong, Farley said. "The MKZ Hybrid is about a quarter of our sales and in some parts of the country, stocks are getting critically low," he said.
Farley said MKZ Hybrids are staying on dealer lots for an average of just 12 days.
The launch of the 2013 MKZ was delayed about four months while Lincoln sorted out quality glitches at Ford's factory in Hermosillo, Mexico. Some MKZs were shipped to Ford's assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich., for quality inspections and repairs during the winter. The delays angered some dealers, who said they received conflicting explanations from Lincoln, resulting in lost credibility and lost orders from customers. Lincoln executives insisted that they didn't want to ship vehicles until all quality problems were sorted out.
"We feel we did the right thing for customers again by handling the launch as we did," Farley said.
Lincoln has not entirely finished the process of working through its bank of cars ordered by customers and delayed by the quality glitches.
"There are definitely still orders out there," VanDyke said. "It's driven by the hybrid. We've been unable to keep up with orders."
He added: "Last month we reported normal stocking levels. We cleared through a lot of pent-up demand. We see regular business going forward."
Marketing gains traction
Lincoln officials said some of their new marketing programs are gaining traction with consumers, including an online concierge service that allows customers to talk with a Lincoln representative by voice or e-mail to configure a vehicle.
About 26,000 visitors have used the service.
Date Night, a promotion in which Lincoln gives a shopper a car for an extended test-drive and pays for dinner, also has sparked interest.
"We've completed more than 1,000 dates," Farley said. "About 90 percent of participants are positively influenced to consider the product."