Heart-and-Soul of Luxury Market Resides in Affordable Cars

October 16, 2010/Steve Tackett

MOTOR MATTERS DOWN THE ROAD BY HERB SHULDINER

Near-luxury models will spark Lincoln’s rebirth says Jim Farley, chief of global marketing for the Ford Motor Co. Two of those models are the MKX, a crossover utility vehicle and an MKZ, Lincoln’s first hybrid model.
Farley promises that Lincoln will soon debut more vehicles to the luxury brand portfolio. The big difference is that Lincoln will feature vehicles targeted at the U.S. market alone.
The new 2011 MKX is aimed at the segment-leading Lexus RX 450. The 2011 Lincoln MKX crossover utility vehicle easily qualifies as the poster vehicle for the iPod generation, featuring Internet connectivity, plus state-of-the-art audio innovations. The Lincoln MKX also is the first vehicle that allows drivers to tag tunes played on HD Radio as a standard feature.
The MKZ Hybrid on the other hand is set to compete with the Lexus HS 250h Hybrid, the leading luxury hybrid, aiming for better performance and fuel economy and quieter operation.
The 2011 MKZ Hybrid also has an attractive suggested retail price of $35,180, identical to the price of its conventionally powered sibling. The Lincoln is also $795 cheaper than the Lexus HS 250h, while also offering more standard equipment.
“Growth for Lincoln will come from the `near-luxury’ segment,” Farley predicts. “Success for Cadillac and Audi, for instance, has come from their most affordable models — in the $35,000-$65,000 range — not in the $85,000 range,” he says.
“The $85,000 range doesn’t define the heart-and-soul of the luxury business anymore,” he says. Farley describes the current state of Lincoln as “foundational.”
“We’ve reestablished that foundation with (coming) new products,” he says. However, Farley declines to announce right now what those products will be. “I don’t want to give away the whole farm.”
Farley doesn’t believe Ford’s luxury marquee needs to target fast-volume growth domestically, or establish global markets.

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

“Why would we want to distract our engineering team with world requirements when our focus is on North America?” he states.
The most important metrics for our (Lincoln) customer is resale value (which has improved 6-10 points) and craftsmanship and technology in our vehicles, he says. “We’re looking for more progressive customers who care about fuel efficiency.”
Farley, whose grandfather was a Lincoln dealer, says his goal for the brand is to attract sustainable retail customers. His strategy is to keep resale value of the products high, instead of keeping sales high as competitors do. Farley believes, however, that dealers are crucial to attracting and keeping Lincoln customers. He says Lincoln customers are concerned about fuel economy and technology, particularly connectivity with the Internet.
“We want to take a leading stance in connectivity,” Farley says. MyLincolnTouch is a key component of this effort. But he insists that Lincoln vehicles have to be easy to understand.
Another thing he’s determined to achieve is differentiating Lincoln’s design from the Ford brand. “Lincolns have a different DNA than Ford’s,” he says.
Farley is confident that Lincoln marketing can compete effectively against Cadillac, Lexus and other luxury brands. “We will continue to strive to surprise customers with our new products.” — Herb Shuldiner, Motor Matters

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010

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