Lincoln is counting heavily on the strength of the luxury crossover SUV market to help return both sales volume and prestige to Ford's upscale division. While the Lincoln MKZ sedan is the first all-new product heralding a new design direction and approach to luxury sales, the critical launches ahead include the compact 2015 Lincoln MKC due later this year, a facelifted 2015 Lincoln Navigator and then the 2016 MKX, a mid-size crossover based on the Ford Edge platform.
But it's not just a product-based assault on the luxury market, according to Andrew Frick, marketing manager for the Lincoln Group. "Our approach is to offer a luxury experience as a whole," he said, and it starts with a new take on the traditional test drive. Called "Date Night", Lincoln invites prospects to take a car overnight and the division will spring for dinner. Dan Brady, consumer marketing manager for the division, said the program has been successful in converting 10 percent of the test drivers into buyers, which is much higher than the 1 to 2 percent rate from traditional dealer test drive programs.
The personal service approach is extended through the ownership experience with a concierge service available on a 24/7 basis through phone, email or texts. Brady says that it up to the customer to decide which way they choose to interact with Lincoln to best meet individual needs.
Frick said the division is in full swing in its product cadence. "Lincoln will have four all-new models in the luxury segment: MKZ, MKC, MKX and a new one we haven't announced yet, not including the Navigator refresh due this fall." That fourth vehicle is expected to be the full-size sedan replacement for the MKS.
In particular the 2015 Lincoln MKC is viewed as a make-or-break product. It is launching into one of the hottest segments with stiff competition from makes like the Audi Q5, Cadillac SRX, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Acura RDX and new entries like the upcoming Lexus NX. "The small premium CUV market is the 4th largest segment," Frick explained, adding that the MKC with a base sticker of $33,995 "is the lowest in the segment."
The next all-new product, the MKZ, was unveiled in Beijing, underscoring the division's move into China. Success in that Asian country can go a long way in sustaining the Lincoln brand in the U.S., much in the same way Buick sells more cars there than in its home market. All the products share the same design theme, a split "bow wave" grille with wing-like horizontal blades and a rear LED light treatment that extends across the back end.
The Black Label Approach
In a move to further differentiate itself from other luxury makes, Lincoln is also rolling out its Black Label program that uses premium trim, materials and features to add more personalization to its products. Frick said the Black Label program will only be offered on all-new vehicles, like the MKZ, MKC and MKX, but not on the facelifted 2015 Navigator, which is not scheduled for a full makeover until after 2016.
In addition to offering concierge levels of service, the Black Label program will initially offer three different design themes, Center Stage, Indulgence and Modern Heritage when it rolls out later this year. The most extroverted is Center Stage, inspired by fashion and theater, and has a Jet Black interior offset by a Foxfire Red headliner. Indulgence takes its cue from the allure of premium chocolate using subtle tones inspired by truffles and ganache along with an antique finish to the accents and Ziricote wood trim. This wood - new to the automotive industry - is often used in high-end yachts. Modern Heritage offers a classic black-and-white interior with subtle red accents. It is clean and modern and features wood trim infused with metal flake between its layers.
"Black Label will emphasize craftsmanship," according to Frick, who added it is part of an overall program to give Lincoln a sense of exclusiveness.
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