Why Lincoln Won’t Take the BMW Path to Success

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Why Lincoln Won’t Take the BMW Path to Success

It seems like every luxury automaker is chasing BMW, trying to create faster, sportier, more engaging vehicles than the builder of Ultimate Driving Machines. But not all have drawn a bead on this Bavarian rival.

“We’re not doing that,” said Carey White, marketing manager for the Lincoln MKX. This is a rather contrarian thing to say as brands like Cadillac, Infiniti and even notoriously conservative Lexus have BMW in their scopes; on the surface, it even sounds borderline insane. Don’t you have to build sporty, enthusiast-focused vehicles to play in the luxury market?

SEE ALSO: 2016 Cadillac CTS-V Review

Clarifying his position, White said there are some rivals in the market today that are trying to out-BMW BMW but, “It’s not a path Lincoln wants; we want to have our own identity.”

2016 Lincoln MKX

White said there’s tremendous opportunity for Lincoln in the luxury space. BMW serves a very distinct buyer and they do an extremely good job catering to their needs. However, he also mentioned there are plenty of other customers out there who want a different experience, something warmer and friendlier.

“Please don’t misunderstand me,” cautioned White. “I’m not saying that we don’t want to have performance, I’m not saying we don’t want to have vehicles that are strong performers, we’re just … not going after zero-to-60 in four [seconds].” He said not to expect 700-horsepower V8s in future Lincolns.

Quiet Confidence

Aside from building dynamic, high-quality vehicles with an unquantifiable warmth not found in competing models, White said Lincoln is also focusing on a couple other key things. One of them is quietness.

2016 Lincoln MKX Interior

Making Lincoln interiors as silent as possible is one of the company’s goals. “We want our vehicles to be sanctuaries for our clients,” noted White. And according to him, the new 2016 MKX crossover should deliver best-in-class quietness, bettering its primary rival, the Lexus RX.

Aside from silence, one of the other main ways Lincoln can stand out from rivals is at the dealership level, which White described as being the most important. “We want to create a very, very warm experience for the customer,” one with unparalleled service and a personal touch. He said they’ll have more to share next year about how Lincoln plans to achieve this.

And curiously, Lincoln is learning a lot about luxury clientele from its business in China, which is steadily expanding. By the end of this year, Lincoln is on track to have 25 dealerships in the country, a number that’s expected to grow to 60 by the end of 2016.

Lincoln in China

Lincoln is also very well respected by Chinese customers, who will play a crucial role in the brand’s ongoing renaissance. White said the MKZ and MKC are doing extremely well in the Middle Kingdom, which is good news for the larger MKX, which “literally will be there in the next couple weeks.”

After this, White said the Navigator SUV is slated to go on sale in December, which has been “a black-market vehicle there for quite a while.”

2016 Lincoln Navigator

White said Lincoln will sell every Navigator it ships to China, even in spite of hefty import tariffs on vehicles that aren’t built in the country. The MKX, for instance, starts at 479,000 yuan, nearly $76,000. Base price for one of these vehicles in America is less than 40 grand.

Product Renaissance

Of course, none of the brand’s planned dealership or customer service improvements will matter if Lincoln doesn’t have competitive vehicles to sell. Not surprisingly, this is something else it is working to remedy.

“MKX is the third of the four all-new products that we’ve committed to, Continental will be the fourth,” said White. The production version of this large sedan is slated to be revealed at the Detroit Auto Show next January. But beyond this, he added there’s a whole other range of vehicles in the pipeline.

Lincoln Continental Concept

“We are building this brand to compete in the volume luxury segment,” said White. Expanding on this, he noted, “We’ll have coverage in the mid 90s, meaning we’ll have we’ll have a product in over 90 percent of the luxury segment.”

SEE ALSO: 2016 Lincoln MKX Review

When queried about the specifics of this plan, White said he couldn’t comment on future models, but when asked whether Lincoln would play in the compact segment with something like an Audi A3 or Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class he responded, “At this point [that] would be more of a niche segment in luxury just because there isn’t a lot there.” However, he admitted it’s something Lincoln will continue to study.

What about Rear-Wheel Drive?

But arguably the pachyderm in the parlor for this famous American brand is rear-wheel drive, something many pundits consider a prerequisite for competing in the luxury market. Surely, Lincoln deserves a version of Ford’s fantastic new Mustang, right? With a chuckle White said, “Never say never,” not a very confidence-inspiring reply.

2016 Ford Mustang

When asked if a vehicle like this is something Lincoln needs, White said, “I’m not sure rear-wheel drive is absolutely necessary,” adding, “I understand why people like rear-wheel drive [and] high-power V8s, I get that, but times have changed.” According to him, EcoBoost powertrains, all-wheel drive and torque vectoring can give you the same feel. And from his answer, it’s crystal clear these technologies are part of Lincoln’s future.

Patience, Please

As for this brand’s ongoing rebirth, White wants everyone to relax. He said, “I think we’ve got to take it in steps … people need to patient. When I say people, I mean media, even inside of the company, we need to be patient, because we have to grow organically.”

Sales and market share, transaction prices and conquest sales need to continue growing for this brand to succeed. But White’s not worrying. “If we can continue to drive home those three metrics, I think we’re going to be in a really, really good place for the brand.”

Lincoln MKZ

In recent years, many pundits have counted Lincoln among the automotive dead, or if they didn’t consider it an outright casualty, they treated as little more than a zombie brand, the driving deceased. But after decades of neglect, things finally feel like they’re starting to turn around.

Fresh, competitive products are on the way and for the first time in recent memory, Lincoln has a clearly stated place in the market, serving as a challenger brand with something unique to offer. Enthusiastically, White said, “I’m very confident in what we’re doing. I wish I could tell you everything right now.”

Discuss this story on our Luxury-Lifestyle Forum

  • t1oracle

    Lincoln isn’t luxury. Luxury is about being more special than others. A Lincoln is barely distinguished from a Ford, it doesn’t stand out as special, it’s not the “best” at anything. Everything about it is pedestrian and common. No one wants to pay a premium for common.

  • Rocket

    Spot on, Mr. White. The whole chasing the German RWD argument is nonsense. Historically Lincoln wasn’t respected for offering a “German-like” driving experience. Lincoln, like Cadillac, was about elegant comfort. Cadillac goes chasing after BMW, and while praised by media types and enthusiasts, the market has responded with a collective yawn. As my neighbor and Cadillac loyalist said when he dumped his months-old CTS recently, “If I had wanted a BMW, I would have bought a BMW.” The fact that the outdated FWD-based SRX remains Cadillac’s best selling model by a wide margin is a great indicator that Lincoln is on the right track. That said, more differentiation from Ford is critical. Thankfully the MKX no longer looks like a rebadged Edge, and the Continental is very promising.

  • Bug S Bunny

    I’ve never really considered BMW as a “luxury” brand – to me they’re more of a “performance” brand slanted toward sedans. Whereas Lincoln and Cadillac are in fact “luxury” brands, although Cadillac tries to position themselves as more of a “performance” brand (and they are failing). Lincoln’s strategy is correct.

  • craigcole

    Exactly right. Lincoln needs to grow slowly and steadily in order to get back to a solid footing. Performance isn’t how you do that.

  • laserwizard

    I think we need to put this kind of marque in perspective.

    BMW has always had the ability to pander to those who seek “European Luxury” – since the first days of the brand, these have been more or less driver’s products with the German version of stark luxury and craftsmanship. With decades of adhering to this type of “luxury”, BMW has an easy road to travel. It remains true to itself.

    Mercedes is both a taxi and a luxury product – it is less of a driver’s product though it does aim at luxury. Recently the brand has turned the corner and has been a much more stylized version of itself instead of merely being form follows function with each year.

    Audi has transformed itself over the past two decades from acceleration issues much like Toyota to an in between version of BMW and Mercedes. Not as heavily styled as Mercedes but not as much as a driver’s product as BMW, but it offers the assembly detail of both and easily just as good depending on what you are looking for.

    The Japanese invasion into this segment has really been pretty much of a joke – really nothing performance oriented and simply rebadged and respun low rent products with leather thrown in and enough content to make the value proposition appealing if the product remains low rent underneath – and by low rent I mean no passion and no refinement. The engines and drive trains work flawlessly, but honestly, you don’t drive a Lexus – you ride in one. And Acura is now a complete joke being far more Honduh than it ever was.

    Cadihack has been an experiment in throwing good money after bad taste – the Arts and Scientology design philosophy is so named because you drink the koolaid to buy these hideous and tacky products. Cadihack used to have a vision of luxury and at least it could get by on that; now it is merely an expensive product with worthless exterior and interior detailing surrounding above average engine and chassis. In more occasions than not, these products are overpriced and cramped. It amazes me how you can build 4 door sedans that can only carry the front occupants in comfort while having the rear seat passengers undergo leg amputations to even get in the back seat. The ATS and CTS are worthless products – you’d be better off with a Buick Regal and you’d save considerable cash. Of course you can upgrade to performance, but that is paying through the nose with a level of performance that should have been standard.

    Lincoln has had a spotty legacy – sometimes it was spot on for the market and then it eventually was dumbed down to being a Ford in drag with cheap lipstick and perfume that sounded nice but the aroma was far less flattering. As someone who owned a Town Car from the mid 1980’s, I loved the room, loved the quiet, and loved the ride. The engine was bullet-proof, but the materials were second rate and every Lincoln from that era has the same quality issues that show up over time.

    Cadihack has had lots of money thrown at it and the whole experiment has been a failure – despite the spin, this brand sells more nameplates than it ever has and still cannot beat 1990 sales even when adding trucks to the sales figures. If there ever was a case study in insanity in the Automotive sector, Cadihack is a classic one of what not to do. From cannibalizing its own sales to offering too many products and dilluting development to failing to understand if you build a luxury product, it should be truly luxurious, you have a disaster. And Cadihacks are not made to order – they are Kmart available – off the rack – nothing special.

    Lincoln nearly died. But what we are seeing now is a start to a remake of the product with serious efforts to make the products less than a remade Ford. This is going to be a slow process of making each product better than the prior one – sorta like what Toyota did from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s before it just decided to give up making good products and rested on its laurels. Lincoln is now charting out its own path to this – and perhaps maybe it will discover that American luxury cars are really luxurious, really quiet, and should offer good performance, but they should not be like what Cadihack has tried to do – make imitation European products that are laughable at all price points until you get into the nose-bleed level and you are an idiot to pay that much for what should have been the entry product.

  • smartacus

    What makes it even harder for Lincoln is there are very few non-sporty luxury segments left.

    Lincoln needs to think outside the box, and hard. because even SUV’s are going sporty.

    Crap-ura ILX is nothing but a rebadged Civic, so Lincoln should do the same with the Focus (particularly an AWD Focus, perhaps even a lifted AWD Focus to make it more like a Subaru XV)
    Do Something.

  • johnls39 .

    How is Cadillac fail as a performance brand? That is nonsense. Cadillac started being a performance luxury brand seriously in ’13 with the XTS, ATS, CTS, ELR and Escalade. The current SRX is still a traditional Cadillac but the ’17 XT5 is going to be a bit sportier than the SRX.

    You need to understand that Cadillac has raised their prices significantly for the reason most people are not buying same as for weak image viewed by the general public. However, while the current products are excellent, Cadillac can do better and they will blow a lot of people away when a slew of updated and brand new products get here in few years.

    There are people who prefer performance and Cadillac decided to go with performance 100%. Matter of fact, Cadillac been about performance since the mid 80s but not on a large scale compared to the 90s with the Touring models currently.

  • Bug S Bunny

    Let me clarify: Cadillac doesn’t fail to deliver performance, but they fail to be taken seriously as a “performance” car company. To many people, they still have the “old person’s luxury” image, much as Lincoln does.

  • johnls39 .

    Although Lincoln is making nice decent cars, they are lost as a brand. They need to understand that they need to have rear-wheel drive for sexy proportions and front wheel drive is nothing sexy if the front wheels is close to the A pillar on a luxury brand.

    I prefer Cadillac over Lincoln and I would never consider Lincoln until they start offering RWD models. They don’t have to be the sportiest in class but they need to have confident road manners. Although Lincoln is improving, they will never be technically advance and light years ahead with Cadillac or the competition for that matter.

  • CactusJack

    I buy American cars made as much as possible from North American sourced parts. Buying a Toyota is great for Japan’s economy, but does little for ours. That said, if ANY car came along and just fixed the problems that I report, I would buy that car. When I tell the Buick dealer that the transmission slips occasionally, it’s because the transmission slips occasionally. Telling me he can’t duplicate the problem suggests that he doesn’t believe me. I want him to take the transmission apart and fix it, not just road test it. SO…listen Lincoln: I’ll buy your car if you guarantee you will fix problems that arise. I had been planning on replacing my car when the warranty runs out and Lincoln was very much in the running. I’ve recently decided not to bother, since I’ll just get another car with a problem that the service department can’t duplicate, like each of my last 5 new cars. I think I’ll just keep this one until the wheels fall off. At least I already know what the problems are.

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  • timothyhood

    The Continental, far more than any car we’ve seen from Lincoln in a long time, shows that it finally has created a product from which it can build its new identity. It’s a car that actually looks like luxury, will surely sell well in China, and explains exactly how Lincoln will attempt to compete in the luxury market without hanging their hat on performance. If they follow up with other models with this same level of improvement, the rebuilding of the brand will be successful.