Lincoln unveils MKC, eyes China
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013 at 8:33 p.m.
Lincoln vehicles should be popular in China and all Lincoln products have been developed with that huge potential market in mind, said Jim Farley, head of the Lincoln brand as well as the Ford leader for global sales and marketing.
"We can launch the brand from scratch," Farley said of an opportunity filled with both promise and challenges.
China's consumers love American culture, but as a new challenger brand, Lincoln and its dealers must also work to educate them about the brand's rich heritage, Farley said in interviews following this week's unveiling of the Lincoln MKC compact crossover. The MKC will go on sale in the U.S. next year.
Vehicles for China need large and well-appointed back seats. Farley wouldn't say if the cars will be stretched to provide more room in back.
But the real dilemma is the front end. In China, the tastes are very different.
"We've done our homework to understand the cultural reasons for the difference," Farley said.
Chinese customers like large, vertical headlights, while the West, and Ford in particular with its new design, is going towards smaller, sleeker, horizontal headlights. Cars in China also have big, bold grilles with lots of chrome.
In the U.S., Farley thinks the new MKC compact crossover is a strong bet because it is such a vibrant new segment without dominant players. Had Lincoln chosen to do a small sedan instead, he does not think there would be as much growth potential.
The revival of the Lincoln brand is taking a major step with the unveiling of the MKC, the smallest vehicle to ever carry the Lincoln name but a large piece of Ford's strategy to return its remaining luxury brand to prominence.
The task will take years and cost billions, and it runs the risk of proving as ineffective as previous attempts.
But the leadership at Ford Motor Co. is undeterred.
Before joining Ford in 2006, CEO Alan Mulally thought of Lincoln as an storied American brand.
"I had a wonderful impression of Lincoln," Mulally said. "When I got to Ford, I wondered where Lincoln was."
Named for America's beloved 16th president, Lincoln has slipped from the nation's leading luxury brand in 1990, with sales of 231,660, to near-extinction. Lincoln ended 2012 with sales of 82,150, a 4 percent drop when luxury car sales industrywide rose nearly 12 percent.
Today, Lincoln's U.S. sales rank last among eight luxury brands. Restoring Lincoln was quickly added to Mulally's to-do list early in his tenure.
He decided quickly that Ford, which in the late 1990s went on a luxury-carmaker buying spree, could not continue to be a house of many brands. With Ford and Lincoln accounting for 85 percent of business, the decision was to invest in them and divest the rest, including Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Volvo.