For nearly a decade, a great experiment of sorts has been taking place involving America's two struggling luxury brands, Cadillac and Lincoln.
Seeking to regain their places as stylish, desirable, trend-setting — and profitable — luxury brands, Cadillac and Lincoln have received billions to invest in new products, but each has taken a different path as they rebuild.
At General Motors, Cadillac has been given exclusive platforms and powertrains in an effort to create vehicles that are markedly distinct from lower-priced Buicks and Chevrolets. Cadillac's interiors did not receive the same attention.
At Ford, Lincoln's vehicles have remained tethered to Ford platforms and powertrains. Sure, there's been an all-wheel-drive system here, more power there and a few other minor tweaks, but no unique architectures or powertrains that haven't filtered up from an existing Ford or, after debuting in a Lincoln, down to a Ford vehicle.
When all this was rolling out around 2012, I knew who the winner would be: Cadillac. I couldn't see tech-savvy luxury buyers paying a premium for a warmed-over Ford when they could get exclusive hardware developed specifically for Cadillac.
I was dead wrong. Here's why.
Lincoln has been smarter than Cadillac in several ways. I don't know how Lincoln product development planners developed their strategy, but it has proven the right one: Somehow, Lincoln's research showed that the luxury customers it was targeting simply don't care if the ball joints, shocks, power steering rack and differential are identical to those in work-a-day Fords.
What those customers really care about are the things they see, feel, touch and smell. So, instead of more horsepower, Lincoln poured its resources into designing interiors that are nothing short of exquisite. Nautilus, Aviator, Navigator and Continental interiors don't just have outstanding, attractive designs, but also high-quality materials that give them a very bespoke, hand-crafted look.