By Dan Carney, NBC News contributor
Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand will make its first foray into the compact segment when it introduces a small car this fall, probably at the Los Angeles auto show in November.
To the degree that Lincoln is famous, it is for its enormous slab-sided Continental of the 1960s, a midcentury modern design rebuttal to the winged ’59 Cadillac. More recently its plush Navigator SUV was popular with influential NBA players and rap musicians for about an hour in the late 1990s, before Cadillac introduced the Escalade and locked up those customers.
Finally, we have ridden in tired Town Car limos leaving airports for a couple of decades now, helping to ratchet down whatever cachet Lincoln ever possessed. Now the company aims to reclaim its image with a small car, referred to in the industry as “C-segment.”
“We’ve been open about our plans to develop a vehicle for this segment as we steadily grow the new Lincoln lineup for a new kind of Lincoln consumer with seven new or significantly refreshed vehicles by 2015 – including this first-ever C-segment vehicle,” said Lincoln spokesman Timothy Elliott.
Lincoln’s biggest problem has been the unsuitability of Ford vehicles, until recently, as the starting point for luxury vehicles. In today’s industry, even luxury brands usually build their cars on the underpinnings of a cheaper mainstream model. Toyota perfected this approach, printing cash by the bushel selling the Lexus ES350 and RX350, vehicles that are basically leather-swaddled Toyotas.
Lexus could do that because the underlying Toyota models were fundamentally sound. Most Ford models, in contrast, were made with the proverbial baling twine, built on cheap, outdated fundamental components that were ill-suited as the foundation of true prestige cars.
But since Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally has refocused the company on its “One Ford” mission, Ford’s vehicles have become spectacularly good as beneficiaries of the company’s global resources. Ford models like the midsize 2013 Fusion serve as excellent starting points for Lincoln models like the gorgeous Lincoln MKZ.
In fact, new Fords are so good that even the compact Escape and Focus are suitable candidates for “Lincolnization.” Which is what will happen soon, probably first to the Escape, given the established popularity of compact luxury SUVs like the Audi Q5.
When Mulally arrived at Ford from Boeing in 2005, he found an unfocused company that he thought was trying to be too many things to too many people. His solution, like Thoreau’s, was to simplify.
He sold off foreign car brands like Volvo and Aston Martin and shuttered the irrelevant Mercury division, whose products were transparently rebadged Fords. All focus was to be on the Ford brand, the so-called “Blue Oval.”