The Wall Street Journal, Jan-15-2013 Ė DETROIT-Ford Motor Co. is investing billions of dollars to invigorate the Lincoln brand, said Jim Farley, the company's global Lincoln brand chief and marketing director, at the North American International Auto Show on Monday.
Mr. Farley, who added the new title to his job last fall, has championed the brand and pushed for its expansion into China as the company attempts to make its luxury line into a global player.
The company's commitment to the Lincoln brand has strengthened over the past year. In addition to the promise of four new or redesigned models to come over the next several years, Ford has made efforts to give Lincoln its own design team and parceled out engineering resources specifically to the brand in an effort to make it distinct from Ford.
Bill Ford Jr., the executive chairman for Ford, said his family, which controls the company through class-B shares, is fully behind keeping Lincoln and investing in the brand.
"We had to fix the Ford brand first, because without the [blue] oval, there is no Lincoln. Now it's time to turn our attention to Lincoln," Mr. Ford said. The family and the board of directors "talked a lot about whether it was worth the trip and decided that it was."
Ford, Monday, unveiled the Lincoln MKC prototype vehicle, a small crossover utility vehicle built on the same underpinnings as the Ford Escape, at the auto show. The small utility segment grew by 200% in sales in 2012 and Ford and other companies see it as a big area for growth.
Ford is at the beginning of an effort to revitalize its luxury brand with redesigned models. Late last year, Ford began selling a redesigned MKZ sedan and the crossover would constitute the second vehicle to come out under the new direction.
Ford launched a new marketing campaign for Lincoln late last year and renamed the brand, The Lincoln Motor Co. Ford executives have made national television appearances touting the brand, including a Times Square event featuring the MKZ. These efforts, however, haven't immediately translated into sales. The brand's U.S. results declined 4.1% to 82,150 in 2012, primarily because Lincoln stopped selling its Town Car, which was sold to black car liveries.
The Lincoln concept's interior expands on the brand's moves to eliminate as many levers and buttons as possible. There is no shift lever and no emergency brake handle. Like the just launched MKZ sedan, the concept has the new Lincoln grille, featuring chromed louvers that sweep up to suggest the wings of a bird of prey.
The MKC has a few fanciful touches-including a wine cooler in the console between the rear bucket seats-but overall this show car is intended as a signal to Lincoln dealers and would-be customers that the brand intends to chase rivals that have fielded smaller car-based luxury crossovers in the U.S. The segment is one of the global auto market's fastest-growing-sales expanded 60% last year, Lincoln executives reckon, and could grow by as much as 20% globally during the next five years.