Ignore the rumors that Ford and Lincoln are about to become separate entities as new Ford CEO Mark Fields announced late last week that a projected $5-billion overhaul of the luxury brand that FoMoCo has owned since 1922 is certainly in the offing. Over the past two decades Lincoln sales have begun to slip, leaving dealers and consumers alike wondering if Ford would abandon the brand for good. With the renewed backing of Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and the rest of the giant automaker’s board of directors, Fields is excited about the project and has committed Ford to a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar revival of the celebrated luxury brand that is expected to include a new premium vehicle platform that will underpin several new vehicles designed to reposition Lincoln as a competitor to such global luxury leaders as Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Though Fields declined to discuss specific spending and product guidelines, inside sources say that the Lincoln rebuilding effort could take up to five-years and cost $5-billion. “It’s really important for us to have a relevant and vibrant luxury brand,” Fields told Reuters on Friday, “You need to make the investment and build this brand over time.” Fields said Ford is looking at the Lincoln rebuilding effort “in terms of generations of products,” an effort that will stretch well into the next decade. A longer-range target is to restore Lincoln’s luster as a premium automotive marque in the U.S. and build it into a formidable competitor in China, where Ford has recently launched the brand years after most of its global luxury rivals entered the Chinese market. On Friday, Ford delivered its first Lincoln in China, an MKZ sedan.
The springboard for the Lincoln revival plan is a new line of vehicles that will be built on a highly flexible premium platform that can be configured for front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, or all-wheel-drive vehicles.This is a crucial element that has been lacking in several previous, under-financed attempts to resuscitate the brand. Versions of the platform will be used by both the Lincoln and Ford, sources said.
The former CEO, who retired in July, declined to make more than a nominal investment in Lincoln — and even considered selling or closing the brand but thankfully his successor Fields has different ideas. He has directed his management team to try and reverse a long-term U.S. sales skid that has seen Lincoln sink from the number one spot among luxury vehicles in 1998 to its present position of eighth place with about half the sales of Cadillac and one-quarter the sales of segment leader Mercedes. Last year, Lincoln sales were 81,694; less than half of the 187,121 cars it sold in 1998. Ford executives said last month that the immediate goal of the latest Lincoln turnaround effort is to triple the brand’s global sales to 300,000 vehicles by 2020. Several industry analysts have challenged that mark as overly optimistic. Only time will tell.