Lincoln Assassination: It May Be Time For Ford To Kill Its Luxury Auto Brand

Last Updated May 13, 2011 3:26 PM EDT


Kill me now.
Ford's (F) annual meeting yesterday was basically a Motown love-fest, concluded in record time amid much clapping of hands. Not surprising, given that Ford has been on quite a roll of late. Making money. Reclaiming the number two spot in the U.S. But there's one lingering problem, and its name is Lincoln.

The Lincoln Question has been pondered in the this space before. Ford CEO Alan Mulally also addressed it on Thursday, as reported by the Detroit Free Press:
Mulally said the Lincoln luxury brand was undergoing the same kind of "right-sizing" that the broader company had done. He declined to be specific about just how many Lincoln dealers the company would close, other than to say that a diminished number of dealers would mean increased profits for those that remain.

Mulally said new vehicles for Lincoln were currently being designed, with input coming from dealers themselves, and that he expected production of new Lincoln models "within the coming year."
But is it really worth it?
Lincoln is currently on a pace to sell only about 80,000 vehicles this year, and as Road & Track's John Rettie points out, the brand's trajectory in the marketplace is not good:
So far this year Lincoln is the only brand in the U.S. that has seen a drop in sales compared to last year. It must be grim for Lincoln dealers, as they no longer have Mercury cars to sell either.

Hopefully the future will be brighter as Ford Motor Company plans to rejuvenate Lincoln and introduce bolder cars. It is now promoting the fact all its current models, except for the soon to be axed Lincoln Town Car, are available with all-wheel drive. Lincoln says it sees all-wheel drive as a core technology option on the entire Lincoln lineup in the future, perhaps hinting it hopes to emulate Audi.
I dunno -- this sounds like a Hail Mary pass to me. Lincoln once built plush rear-wheel-drive luxury barges that appealed to the old-school American luxury customer, who loved freeway cruising and needed lots of trunk space for golf clubs. That formula doesn't fly anymore, now that the U.S. market has been thoroughly invaded by European performance marques like BMW and the aforementioned Audi.

AWD luxury = Fake RWD luxury
If Ford plans to revive Lincoln, converting the brand's front-wheel-drive sedans to AWD isn't the way to go. This would a band-aid rather than a rethink. Honda is trying to do the same thing with Acura -- but Lincoln doesn't have Acura's reputation for quality.

Besides, continue to support Lincoln doesn't exactly fit with Mulally's otherwise successful "One Ford" strategy. Ford has benefited greatly from shedding brands since Mulally arrived. Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo are all gone, enabling Ford to focus on its awesome core lineup. Mercury was recently retired, so the only reason to cling to Lincoln is to maintain a toe-hold, however tenuous, in the luxury market.

Play by the rules
The luxury car buyer isn't that tough a nut to crack. What he or she wants is uncomplicated, but it isn't what he or she wanted in 1998. Cadillac figured this out a while ago, when GM remade the brand with bold styling and high-performance. Lincoln continues to lag.

And you have to ask whether it's still worth it for Ford to keep it going, or whether it might make more sense to kill it and use the resources now propping up those 80,000 yearly sales to build even more fuel-efficient small cars it can sell anywhere on the globe.

Related: Photo: Ford Media
  • Matthew DeBord

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