For his part, Ford CEO Mark Fields insists this week’s CT6 vs. Continental matchup is purely coincidental, as product plans are set years in advance. Lincoln intended all along to introduce a new full-size sedan in 2016, so “now’s the right time to show the concept,” Fields told me.
Fair enough, but Ford also could have waited to reveal the Continental at the Shanghai auto show in April, rather than here in New York, Cadillac’s recently adopted hometown. After all, the Continental is, at its heart, a play for growing sales in China, where full-size luxury sedans are a large, fast-growing segment.
The car was designed with Chinese customers in mind, especially those who like to be driven around and care more about rear-seat comfort and amenities than anything on the instrument panel. When Lincoln executives gave me a preview of the Continental recently, they tellingly invited me to sit in the rear seat, which fully reclines and has access to an integrated lap desk and champagne chiller, but not in the front.
Ford may be going head to head with Cadillac at this week’s show, but the two brands are taking divergent approaches to the market as they each strive to rejuvenate storied American brands.
Cadillac has largely ditched actual model names in favor of the alphabet soup that’s ubiquitous among modern luxury cars, while the Continental represents a return of an iconic name from Lincoln’s past.
While Cadillac is more about performance, Lincoln is focused on grace and serenity. The president of Lincoln, Kumar Galhotra, said he’s seeking buyers who “are not looking for aggressive beauty, they’re looking for elegant beauty. … We want to help our customers resolve some of the tensions in their lives.”
While the CT6 is a production car coming this year and the Continental isn’t arriving until 2016, Ford executives made clear that what they’re showing this week is no fantastical design study.
“This is very close to what we’re really going to do,” Galhotra told me.
“It’s a -- what’s the word,” Fields said, pausing, “‘strong indication’ of what the production model is going to look like.”