NEW YORK — Lincoln's rebirth, with an ambitious goal to triple its 2013 global sales to 300,000 by 2020, began with the redesign of the 2013 MKZ sedan.
But it will be utility vehicles that finish the job.
Lincoln, a name long synonymous with boatlike sedans, last week introduced what it called a "production preview" of the Aviator at the New York auto show. The three-row crossover, which Lincoln chief Joy Falotico called the brand's "next act," sits on a new rear-wheel-drive platform and comes in gasoline or plug-in hybrid form.
Its arrival in 2019 will follow a successful redesign of the full-size Navigator SUV and updates to the MKC and MKX (which will become the Nautilus) crossovers. Lincoln plans to add another utility vehicle, in addition to the Aviator, before the end of the decade.
"We've decided to really orient the brand around SUVs," Jim Farley, Ford's president of global markets, said. "This product really captures everything we've been trying to do with Lincoln, finally. The interior is gorgeous; the exterior is flowing. It's our best foot forward. This is a real watershed moment for us."
Executives say the Aviator — a sibling of the Ford Explorer — is the "epitome" of Lincoln design. Its 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 new Lincoln Co-Pilot360 suite of driver-assist technologies.
The production version is expected to retain most of the preview model's features.
"The Aviator is really the best expression of how elegant Lincoln can be," Falotico told reporters.
With the Aviator, Lincoln is targeting new millennial customers in an increasingly popular segment.
"We're going to go where the growth is," Falotico, who took charge of Lincoln on March 1, told Automotive News. "We're going to where our customers want us to go. Utilities is certainly a growth area right now."
The Aviator will come standard with a twin-turbocharged gasoline engine. A plug-in hybrid variant, which uses the same engine, is optional. Officials declined to discuss battery range or performance figures.
Inside, the Aviator will offer the same 30-way adjustable seats used on the Navigator and Continental, and a 12-inch digital cluster, Wi-Fi and multiple charging ports will be standard.
Lincoln will debut a "phone as a key" feature on the Aviator. Customers can download the Lincoln Way app and use their smartphone to lock, unlock and start their vehicle. If the phone's battery dies, Lincoln says a backup passcode can be entered on the exterior keypad to enter the vehicle, and the center touch screen can be used to start the engine.
Ford officials declined to comment on production details, but the Aviator is expected to be built at the Chicago Assembly Plant, which also makes the Explorer and the slow-selling Taurus sedan.
Lincoln said its design team looked to birds, planes and ballerinas as inspiration for the Aviator. The vehicle is meant to mimic the in-flight gesture of planes, with the rear angled lower than the front.
It features a long, horizontal undercut line running on each side from headlight to taillight. The side body panels feature a pronounced curve that adds depth depending on the viewer's perspective.
David Woodhouse, Lincoln's design director, said he wanted the Aviator to be elegant, not aggressive.
"Too much in the marketplace these days we see this feeling of attack from our competitors," he said. "We don't want to be about attack, we want to be about seduction. We want to be more about Monica Bellucci than Predator."