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Howes: Future of Ford’s Lincoln luxury brand hinges on smaller ambition

Nov 30, 2017

Word came from the LA Auto Show this week: Ford's luxury brand Lincoln is doing a reboot.

They're ditching the confusing letters-only name of MKX, and giving their midsize SUV a real name: Nautilus.

Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes joined Stateside to muse about the past, present and future of Lincoln.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

Can Lincoln compete?

“In 1990, Lincoln was the top-selling brand in the United States, luxury brand. And by 2004, it had sunk to 7th, and today it’s 8th. It just is not making progress. They have rebranded, renamed, reconfigured, reimagined, relaunched this brand at least a couple to three times in that intervening period. And I think what is significant about this right now is that essentially they’re saying, ‘Look, we’re not even going to try to compete against the German luxury brands. We’re not even going to try to compete against Cadillac. It’s too expensive, and we don’t think it’s necessarily going to pay off for us.’”

“The luxury market in the world, not just in the United States, is defined by three companies: BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. They created the club, they set the rules for the club, they are the club, and they decide who gets in the club. And if you want to be in the club, you have to benchmark their technology, their capability, all of the things that make them a German luxury vehicle. Lincoln has clearly decided that is somewhere they don’t want to go."

What’s in a name

"They have to be consistent and I think one of the things that is also ironic about all this name changing is: think the German brands again. How long have you known the 3 Series? The 5 Series? The 7 Series? How long have you known the C-Class? The M-Class? The E-Class? The S-Class? Those numbers, those names, are around. They iterate, they iterate, they iterate, they iterate. People know what to expect and they go back to those models. In the case of Lincoln, they’re changing all the time. And you had Aviator and you had a Zephyr and then you had MKZ and MKE and MKX and MKC and now you’ve got a Nautilus. I mean, it’s dizzying and the only name that has stuck around for that 15 or 17, 18 years has been Navigator. Everything else has changed.”

Who would be affected by an end to Lincoln

“It would make more difference to dealers, frankly, who lost the Mercury brand because a lot of these dealerships were twin dealerships — they were Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. So they lost Mercury and now they need enough volume to be a viable business.”

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