Yet after the MKZ’s troubled debut last year, Mulally began to wonder out loud if Lincoln was worth the effort, said the people familiar with the situation. Fields and Jim Farley, head of Lincoln and Ford’s global marketing chief, convinced Mulally of Lincoln’s viability and came up with a plan to avoid future problems with new model introductions, the people said.
VanDyke denied that Mulally ever wavered in his support of Lincoln.
Mulally and Fields “have unique backgrounds and experiences and brought different perspectives,” VanDyke said. “But they’ve both been completely, completely in unison on the strategic importance of Lincoln to Ford Motor Co.”
Last year, quality problems at the Mexican plant that made the MKZ caused Ford to quarantine early models at a factory near Detroit to fix misaligned trim. As a result, the car arrived on dealer lots long after Ford had spent millions reintroducing the Lincoln brand and its comeback car in a splashy ad campaign that included spots on the 2013 Super Bowl.
“Mark was passionate about really understanding what happened last year on the MKZ and putting in place substantial, meaningful changes in our processes to ensure that we didn’t have the kind of product delays and holds we had last year,” VanDyke said.
Those changes included more personal oversight by Fields, Farley and Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, VanDyke said. Now, the MKC rollout is “on plan,” VanDyke said.
Yet, the path back to pride and profits will be long. Lincoln’s U.S. sales have climbed 21 percent this year to 37,251 models, though that’s compared to last year’s first half when the brand’s sales fell to a 32-year low. Lincoln ranks eighth among luxury brands sold in the U.S. and it is outsold by nearly two-to-one by GM’s Cadillac luxury line. A year’s worth of Lincoln sales would not fill half a Ford factory.
“Getting people to pay attention to Lincoln -- which has always been associated with grandpa’s car -- is going to take a lot of clever advertising,” said Joe Phillippi, president of AutoTrends Consulting, who drove, and liked, the MKC in California this month. “They’re going to have to spend a lot of marketing money to impress upon people that this is different.”
The difference starts with the sheet metal. The MKC has a design that is 85 percent different from the Ford Escape SUV with which it shares a mechanical foundation, VanDyke said.
“This product was not, ‘Let’s start with an Escape and make some changes to it,’” VanDyke said.
The MKC is loaded with technology, including a feature that automatically parallel parks the car and pulls it out of the space without the driver touching the steering wheel. The interior and dashboard is wrapped in soft-touch leather that Ford said undergoes a 12-hour process to make it supple, six times longer than the standard softening technique.
It will also debut a new 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that kicks out 285 horsepower. It’s mated to an all-wheel-drive transmission that Ford said gives the MKC better driving dynamics than its German and Japanese competitors. The engine also is rated to achieve 29 mpg on the highway, better than the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Acura RDX, Ford said.