Killing Mercury Was the Easy Part, Building Up Lincoln Will be Tougher
CNBC Auto and Airline Industry Reporter
As brand deaths go, the demise of Mercuryis being met with a collective shrug of the shoulders. Aside from the 276 Lincoln/Mercury dealers who are losing half their sales, few others will care that Mercury is leaving the Ford orbit.
In the latest step of the Ford makeover by CEO Alan Mulally, the easy part is killing Mercury.
The tougher piece of the puzzle is building Lincoln into a true luxury brand that competes and beats the competition.
Already Ford executives are touting Lincoln as a brand on the rise.
After all, sales are up 12.4% this year, the number of luxury buyers considering Lincoln when they hit showrooms is up, and the Lincoln line-up/marketing are a huge improvement over where they've been in recent years.
Congratulations. It's a nice improvement, but let's keep things in perspective.
For starters, while Lincoln sales are up year over year, the brand still lags all the other mass-market luxury brands. Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Acura, and Infiniti have all outsold Lincoln. Meanwhile, Lincoln's market presence needs to be beefed up. Yes, the marketing has improved dramatically, but just a few years ago this brand wasn't even in the game. Finally, the Lincoln experience will have to step up to the big leagues.
In other words, if Mulally and his team are going to succeed at making Lincoln a true luxury brand it will take a sustained investment. Yes, there are seven new or refreshed Lincoln models on the way over the next four years. Yes, the current line-up is vastly superior to the mostly bland and largely forgettable models that symbolized Lincoln for much of the last 20 years. And yes, the new technology and interior styling packed into the current Lincolns makes them more competitive. That said, the tough part is changing perceptions of Lincoln.
Mulally knows this.
The man drove a Lexus before taking the Ford job.
And you can bet a big reason he went with Lexus back then was because the ownership experience. It has always been a top priority at Lexus. Go into one of its dealerships and you are treated differently. After all, if you're gonna plunk down $40-$70,000 for a car, the Lexus dealers want to make sure you are not only happy, but come back again in the future. That's all part of the luxury game, and in my opinion has never been a strong suit at Lincoln.
So that's your challenge Ford. You've done a remarkable job turning around the blue oval and bringing customers back into your showrooms. Now let's see if you can make longtime Cadillac, BMW, or Lexus owners turn into a Lincoln dealership.
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