NEW YORK -- Lincoln hopes a new three-row crossover, the Aviator, can help ignite sales again -- this time in the popular large luxury utility segment.
It will become the brand's fourth SUV or crossover and debuts as Americans continue to forgo sedans in favor of light trucks.
The brand introduced what it called a "production preview" of the Aviator on Wednesday, ahead of the New York auto show here. The vehicle sits on a new rwd platform and comes in either gasoline or plug-in hybrid form.
Executives say the Aviator -- a sibling of the Ford Explorer -- is the "epitome" of Lincoln design, and the vehicle's styling includes an updated mesh grille described as an inverse of the face worn by the Navigator, Continental and other Lincolns. It will come standard with the brand's new Lincoln Co-Pilot360 suite of driver-assist technologies.
The Aviator, scheduled to go on sale in 2019, is expected to retain most of the preview model's features.
"The Aviator is really the best expression of how elegant Lincoln can be," Joy Falotico, who became head of Lincoln this month, told reporters. "It's the most warm, human and personally crafted vehicle we've done to date."
The Aviator nameplate, which Lincoln discontinued in 2005, returns at an important time for the brand. Lincoln is trying to reach 300,000 global sales by the end of the decade and will rely heavily on utility vehicles to get there. In addition to the recently redesigned Navigator, freshened MKC and upcoming Nautilus (which replaces the MKX), Lincoln will add another utility vehicle, besides the Aviator, by 2020.
"It's time for Lincoln's next act," Falotico said. "For us it's about delivering the vehicles our customers want, no matter what the silhouette is going to be."
With the Aviator, Lincoln is targeting new millennial customers in an increasingly popular segment.
Medium-sized luxury utilities account for a quarter of all luxury SUVs, Lincoln says, making it the largest segment of the premium vehicle market. Lincoln said automakers sold more than 585,000 medium utilities last year, and they expect the segment to grow 20 percent over the next few years.