(CBS/AP) - Internally, employees call it the whopper. (Or WOPR - wide open panoramic roof.) Officially it's called a retractable skylight. Either way, it is one of the key features in the new Lincoln MKZ, the car that Ford Motor Company hopes will revive a luxury brand whose sales peaked two decades ago. The new signature retractable 15-square-foot roof is just one feature designed to distinguish the 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan in the crowded luxury market.
Ford is betting that fresh designs, glossier showrooms and a personalized approach to service will help drive sales. The MKZ, unveiled at the New York auto show this week, is one of seven new or revamped Lincoln models to be introduced by 2015 intended to resuscitate the brand.
"We realize we have a long journey ahead of us, but I think we have set a good foundation for it from the product and also what we're trying to do with the consumer experience," said Mark Fields, head of Ford operations in North and South America, at a media event in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.
Lincoln was the top-selling luxury nameplate in the United States in the 1990s, but last year, sales totaled 85,643, less than half the vehicles sold by Lexus, Toyota Motor Co's luxury brand.
Ford aims to lower the average age of Lincoln buyers to 57 years from 65, and raise the target average income by more than 50 percent to nearly $160,000 a year. Lincoln is also hoping that over time half of its buyers will come from other luxury brands. Currently, Lincoln's "conquest" rate is 37 percent.
To encourage more car shoppers to test drive a Lincoln, Ford is considering initiatives like "the Lincoln date night," Ford's head of global marketing, Jim Farley said.
"To reward you for sampling the brand, we'd like to take you out to dinner, on Lincoln," Farley said. "It's a great way to eliminate that friction that so many conquest customers will have."
Ford has not released pricing information on the MKZ, nor has it disclosed how much the glass roof option will cost. The MKZ competes against the Cadillac CTS and the Lexus ES.
Lincoln is offering the MKZ with three different powertrain options, including a hybrid that can get 41 miles per gallon in the city, and a lane monitoring system. As a standard feature, the MKZ will also come with MyLincoln Touch, a touch-screen entertainment and navigation system.
The MKZ is the first Lincoln model since the 1970s to be crafted by a group of designers devoted exclusively to the luxury brand. The design team is headed by Max Wolff, a former Cadillac exterior designer at General Motors Co.
"They are really trying to make an effort to differentiate them from a content standpoint, from a ride and handling standpoint, a quietness standpoint," IHS Automotive analyst Rebecca Lindland said.