A few years ago, the executives at the Lincoln Motor Company came up with a plan to transform the now 98-year old brand and give its luxury cars some new life. New models have bowed and with 2014 in the books, Lincoln is beginning to look on its way to achieving that dramatic turnaround.

Last year saw Lincoln's overall sales surge 15.6 percent, up to 94,474 vehicles total, marking the brand's best year since 2008, and largest percentage gain of the past decade. The MKZ sedan lead the marque in sales, notching a 5.1 percent increase to 34,009 units, followed by the MKX crossover at 23,995 vehicles, and the newly released MKC with 13,077 sold (all within the past eight months).

"To be up almost 16 percent - a little more than double the pace of the luxury industry - is really gratifying," notes Lee Jelenic, Lincoln's marketing manager. "We are the fastest growing full-line luxury brand, and that means a lot to us."

Lincoln, which has in the past found it hard to differentiate itself from parent Ford, has found a winner in the MKZ and an X-factor in actor Matthew McConaughey.

The McConaughey bump

Surely you've seen the commercials, or at least the spoofs. Ever since McConaughey appeared in the TV advertising launch campaign for the MKC, Lincoln has seen its metrics skyrocket. The ads pulled 14 million extra impressions online, doubled website traffic (at some points even quadrupled), and generated increased leads across the entire Lincoln model range.

"It's been great. We didn't set out looking for a celebrity spokesperson but the stars kind of aligned, and it really worked out with Matthew," mentions Jelenic. "When you're transforming yourself as a brand you have the unique chance to retell your story. He is the perfect voice to tell our story."

The subsequent ads for the MKZ have performed well also, netting hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube alone. MKC sales peaked last month with 2,310 vehicles, as did the brand overall with 9,690 total units sold in December, its best closeout since 2009.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Besy Buy Awards of 2015

Revitalization and Expansion

In the case of mapping out a resurgent Lincoln, growth meant going where the buyers were. "We were placing our bets where the bulk of traffic is in the industry," says Jelenic. "We started with the MKZ because the premium C and D segments are the largest, so it made sense to go there first."

The MKC crossover followed, and the newly revealed 2016 MKX marks the third new entry from the division, the latter two staking out the growing small/midsize luxury crossover segment. For the wheels to keep turning though, this duo will need to become big sellers, as more buyers transition to CUVs.

Part of the marque's revitalization includes uplifting brand persona, a job which Lincoln's new Black Label experience looks to achieve. Black Label offers buyers both exclusive vehicle trim levels and member privileges, including a concierge-style buying and maintenance experiences. Currently, the service is available in six states and 32 dealerships, though it will extend nationwide later in 2015. 

The transformation won't just stay domestic either. This past year, Lincoln entered into the expanding Chinese market with the intention of opening eight dealerships by year's end. A total of nine opened their doors and Lincoln plans 60 more stores by 2016. Currently only the MKZ and MKC are offered, though the lineup will expand to include the MKX, Navigator, and an incoming new full-size sedan. Lincoln hopes these models and future products will help achieve 300,000 global sales by 2020.

Luxury segment hot

While Lincoln's year over year growth was sizable, so were some of its competitors'.  Audi's US sales grew 15.2 percent (182,011 vehicles), followed by Lexus at 13.7 percent (311,389), as well as an 11.4 percent gain by Buick (228,963).

Buick's Regal and Acura's new TLX made inroads on the MKZ last year, which overtook the slumping Cadillac ATS, though all four lag behind the premium compact segment's top selling BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class, and Lexus IS. A new face brought renewed life to the Navigator in late 2014 (10,433 sold), however it still has ground to make up on its Cadillac Escalade cross-town rival (30,522). The current MKS full-size sedan is not long of this world.

"In the last two years we've seen our customer get younger, become wealthier, and more educated," says Jelenic. This new product timeline and changing demographic comes as no mere coincidence.


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