Lincoln fights back with new product launches
Lincoln is determined to become America’s luxury vehicle by launching the largest number of new products in the brand’s history.
"We’ve got four major launches within four months," said Thomas Grill, Lincoln brand manager. "The MKZ and Navigator are already at dealers, followed by the MKX crossover and the all-new Navigator L extended-length model. What’s just as important is that our consumers will be very aware of these new products since Lincoln is spending more money in the next 12 months on marketing than ever."
In the not-too-distant past, Lincoln and Cadillac were the luxury cars of choice in North America with Lincoln being the best-selling luxury car brand in America as recently as 1998. Like everything else in the automotive world, those days are long gone with the growing success of the import luxury brands.
Along with new competitors, Lincoln was also hampered by a lack of new products. Between 2000 and the time the Zephyr and Mark LT appeared in 2005, the only new Lincolns were the LS, the Aviator and the short-lived Blackwood.
"They just neglected Lincoln for so long," said Erich Merkle, a brand analyst with IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich. "They have lost a lot of ground."
Now, Lincoln is making up for lost time in a big way.
Lincoln’s product renaissance began with a long hard look at its brand and target customer in order to define its identity in the marketplace. The result is a definition of a Lincoln customer summed up in the phrase, "Advancing the American Dream," and a host of new products tailored for those American dreamers.
"Research and segmentation analysis shows that the Lincoln customer as being a person who has worked hard and earned a reward in the form of a luxury vehicle," said Grill. "In a sense, it’s kind of a cycle. The person takes advantage of opportunities in life, earns a reward which in turn makes them seek out further opportunities."
The Lincoln customer is in a very real sense a work in progress, constantly striving to achieve their goals, according to Grill, and Lincoln plans to offer a vehicle for each stage in the journey, from an entry level MKZ all the way up to a Navigator or the forthcoming flagship, MKS.
In creating the new Lincolns, designers aimed for a refined and dynamic look with special attention paid to the interiors.
"Lincoln designs are refined, yet dynamic," Grill said. "They’re classic. And the vehicles offer the most elegant and comfortable interiors in the luxury market."
That judgment is not just Grill’s. The 2006 Zephyr (now the MKZ) upstaged such powerhouse brands as Mercedes, Lexus, BMW, Audi and Cadillac by winning the "Best Premium-Priced Car Interior of the Year" award from automotive journalists and industry professionals polled by Ward’s Auto World magazine.
Since Lincoln’s target customer is someone who has worked hard and presumably knows the value of a dollar, Lincoln’s strategy stresses value along with the luxury. The MKZ, for example, is the only car in its segment priced under $30,000. The forthcoming MKX crossover has been priced under $35,000 for the standard model, again the only vehicle in its segment offering such value.
"Our value proposition in the market is an earned reward for our customers, offering great value in a luxury offering," Grill said. "The 2007 MKZ, for instance, has added more than $1,000 worth of new equipment, but the MSRP has increased by only a little over $200. Lincoln becomes an attractive buy for customers wanting to move up to the luxury market."
On the product side, Lincoln’s Zephyr evolves into the MKZ and gains a more powerful, 263 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, an all-wheel-drive option, refined waterfall grille and front fascia; new 17-inch, eight-spoke, machined aluminum wheels; available THX ® II-Certified audio system and optional Sirius satellite radio, among other features.
The Navigator comes to market redesigned and offering a new extended-length L model with an additional 25 cubic feet of cargo space.
Lincoln enters the crossover market with the Lincoln MKX. The new crossover offers an ultra-quiet interior with features like genuine wood, leather and satin nickel trim, seats with specialized contours to reduce pressure points and fatigue and the panoramic Vista Roof ™. Available options include adaptive headlights, an available THX-II sound system, heated and cooled front seats and DVD-based navigation system among other features.
Lincoln’s marketing campaign has already started with television advertisements featuring Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade and the redesigned Navigator. Auto writers are gathering this week to road test the four new vehicles on a challenging route through the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Along with the brand’s new products, the Mark LT has succeeded in bringing younger customers into showrooms and racked up a 64 percent increase in sales by the end of September for 2006. And the discontinuation of the Town Car has been greatly exaggerated as Ford recently affirmed that the car will remain in the company’s portfolio.
Going forward, Lincoln isn’t stopping with its current product line. Coming in 2008 is a production version of the MKS concept sedan introduced at the 2006 North American International Auto Show, a vehicle Lincoln plans on making its flagship luxury model..