LOS ANGELES -- After years of suggesting it might happen, Lincoln executives on Tuesday formally declared the death of the brand's confusing "MK" naming convention, starting with the MKX's switch to the Nautilus.
But Robert Parker, Lincoln's head of marketing, received validation for the moniker makeover months before he divulged it to the press ahead of the L.A. Auto Show.
This fall, Parker said, he was riding a shuttle from Detroit's Metro Airport to his parked car and was joined by a husband and wife.
When the driver asked the couple what vehicle they owned so he could drop them off near it, they got into a heated argument.
The reason? The pair owned a Lincoln, they just couldn't remember which one.
She swore it was an MKZ. He insisted it was an MKC.
"It just really punctuated the challenge for me," Parker said. "It was like, OK, it's not just an internal discussion. This is real. People that don't work and do this every day have a hard time with numbers and letters. We sometimes, as marketers, get a little too far over our skis."
The pair eventually found their vehicle (It was an MKC.), and Parker escaped the awkward encounter without mentioning he worked for the company that helped create the couple's confusion.
Lincoln introduced the MK names in 2006. They were supposed to be a nod to the brand's past, with MK pronounced "Mark," referencing the Continental Mark Series.
But customers never quite understood that, and the style quickly devolved to an alphabet soup of letters -- MKZ, MKT, MKS, MKC, MKX -- that didn't quite have any real meaning.
It appeared Lincoln officials had missed the MK.
But things started to change in 2015, when Lincoln resurrected its Continental flagship sedan to replace the slow-selling MKS.
"When we launched the Continental, I think we underestimated how much affinity there was not only for the name but the fact that people like to associate names with cars," Parker said. "This kind of connection consumers have, especially to American brands and names, we felt like is something Lincoln could own. It's something we've owned in the past."
The brand's 2015 launch in China further underscored the need to rethink its nameplates. Lincoln eventually wants to sell more vehicles there than it does in the U.S., and it wants its customers to be able to pronounce them.
"Phonetically for the Chinese, it's a big challenge," Parker said. "Nautilus, Navigator and Continental are certainly names they find easier to associate with."
Parker said the remaining MK names will be phased out as they're redesigned (MKZ, MKC) or discontinued.
Just don't expect Lincoln to follow Ford's lead in naming all of its vehicles with the same letter (think Fiesta, Focus, Freestyle; EcoSport, Escape, Edge, Explorer, Expedition).
"That person's retired," Parker said, referring to a former executive. "We all loved him, but he was kind of stuck on E's and F's."