NEW ORLEANS -- The mood at the Lincoln make meeting brightened considerably this year.
"This was by far the most optimistic Lincoln make meeting we've had in an awfully long time," said Bill Knight, chairman of the Lincoln National Dealer Council and owner of Bill Knight Lincoln in Tulsa, Okla.
A year ago, Lincoln dealers went to the NADA convention in Orlando hoping to hear some good news about the arrival of the MKZ sedan, the first vehicle with Lincoln's new design DNA. But their hopes were dashed when quality glitches delayed the launch by three months.
This year Lincoln management said lessons learned from that launch will be applied to vehicles being launched this year: the new 2015 MKC compact crossover and the re-engineered Navigator SUV.
"We've really learned a lot," Jim Farley, Ford's global vice president of marketing, sales, service and Lincoln, said after the meeting.
Dealers are hoping the launches this year will go smoothly and boost Lincoln's stagnant sales. This year Lincoln will have a full year of MKZ sales, plus the MKC, scheduled to arrive in the second quarter, and the Navigator, scheduled to arrive in the fall.
Nathaniel Sutton, president of Sutton Ford-Lincoln in Matteson, Ill,. said he expects his Lincoln sales will jump 20 to 50 percent in 2015.
Lincoln executives discussed plans to launch in China in 2014 and talked about what those plans mean to U.S. dealers. "We want them to understand why it's important," said Matt VanDyke, director global Lincoln marketing, sales and service.
He said China helps give Lincoln the scale to launch product programs.
Lincoln also has begun several customer service initiatives, including Lincoln Concierge, a 24-hour online service designed to help Lincoln customers shopping for cars.
Hoyt Harbin, owner of Harbin Ford-Lincoln in Scottsboro, Ala., emerged from the meeting optimistic about Lincoln and its future.
"I feel real good. I'm fired up about the MKC and Navigator," he said. "Everybody has quit saying we're not going to make it."