When the reborn Lincoln Continental begins rolling off the assembly line this summer in Flat Rock, Mich., most of the output is likely destined for dealerships halfway around the world.
The sedan's long wheelbase and spacious rear seat -- complete with a "chauffeur" button to create even more room to stretch out in the back -- show that Chinese consumers were top of mind during its development. But even more telling about Lincoln's level of commitment to making the Continental a success in China are subtle tweaks that include the feel of the leather seats and even the smell of the cars headed there.
"They have high demands in terms of craftsmanship and fit and finish," said Pei-Wen Hsu, deputy general manager of marketing for Lincoln in China. "By learning from the Chinese consumers, we've been able to refine our offering."
Lincoln is giving the leather in Continentals going to China a tighter feel because it discovered that the thick, plush seats that Americans prefer are seen as sloppy in the eyes of Chinese consumers. And while the cars make their long oceanic voyage, carbon sheets placed inside absorb the chemical smell that draws Americans into new cars but repels Chinese buyers.
"When the car's delivered, we make sure we don't have that strong "new-car smell,'" Hsu said.
Those seemingly minor changes can be critical in the early years of a brand's foray into the world's largest vehicle market. In the past, many automakers setting their sights on China's fast-growing middle and upper class failed to understand cultural nuances that play into car buying there.