Lincoln Motor Co.'s consecutive yearly U.S. sales streak was snapped at three in 2017, but the luxury brand deserves some credit.
Once relegated to shuttle fleets or the inside of your grandparents' garage, Lincoln has slowly climbed back from the brink of irrelevance. And in an era where brand significance is being questioned, it's proving that good product and unique experiences still matter.
Executives are expanding and updating the portfolio, albeit slowly, with attractive nameplates in core segments.
Pitchman Matthew McConaughey has added some much needed pizazz and excitement, introducing a younger generation of buyers to Lincoln's newest offerings. The decision to ditch the MK naming scheme was an important attempt by management to form stronger emotional connections with customers by using actual names.
It appears that Lincoln finally has a clear vision. That vision includes concepts that Lincoln executives define as "quiet luxury" and "effortlessness," a means to set itself apart from both crosstown rival Cadillac and most of its German luxe counterparts.
That differentiation includes a host of Lincoln-exclusive customer experiences, ranging from at-home test drives, pickup and delivery of all its nameplates and a pilot chauffeur service.
To help decide what will most make customers' lives easier, the brand hires trained observers who embed themselves with customers for days at a time to monitor how they interact with their vehicles and what particular moments bring them joy or frustration.
In many instances, Lincoln designs these services before it designs the vehicle itself. The move to a more service-based business could pay dividends in a future of self-driving vehicles, and could potentially offer alternative revenue streams if personal car ownership declines.
It's still too early to declare victory for Lincoln: It sits eighth among luxury automakers and, after sales fell slightly in 2017, it faces another potential down year for the luxury industry in 2018.
But the brand once synonymous with presidential limos and silver screen cameos has turned a corner. About a decade ago, Ford brass seriously considered killing Lincoln. Today, it's starting to become apparent it was a brand worth saving.