Lincoln, Ford’s luxury brand, was on the chopping block after the financial crisis. But Ford decided to keep Lincoln alive and invest in a turnaround.
That process is now well underway, as Lincoln has relaunched its famous Continental nameplate on a new flagship sedan and is preparing to roll out the latest version of its all-important Navigator SUV.
But Lincoln continues to face challenges, particularly as it develops the brand to compete against heavy hitters, including BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, and its Detroit rival Cadillac. The theme the carmaker has chosen is “Quiet Luxury,” to contrast its low-key approach with the more in-your-face, high-performance approach that other luxury auto brands employ.
Borrowing a page from Lexus’ mid-2000s “relentless pursuit of perfection” marketing and advertising campaign — but with a suave, “Mad Men”-like American updating and the hiring of Matthew McConaughey as a pitchman — Lincoln is speaking softly, not shouting.
Last year, the company opened its first Experience Center in California’s Orange Country, a traditionally tough market for Lincoln. A Dallas location followed. Now Lincoln brought something similar to New York, partnering with the Howard Hughes Corporation in September to join in a revitalization of the Seaport District, a dining-and-shopping destination located in a historical section of lower Manhattan.
“We’re bringing the brand to where affluent customers are hanging out naturally,” Kumar Galhotra, Lincoln’s President, told Business Insider, adding that the Seaport collaboration provides an “opportunity to create new experiences and engage customers at a personal level.”
Galhotra said that Experience Center at Newport Beach in Orange County has thus far been well-received, but he cautioned that Dallas, despite being a better market for Lincoln, is still a work-in-progress.
“We start with the customer and stay incredibly focused,” he said, pointing out that for Lincoln to succeed, it has to expand the suite of services it can provide, such as a new chauffeuring offering, without overdoing it. He used package delivery as an example of a possible overreach.
“A customer will say that they have Amazon to do that,” he said.
At the Seaport, Lincoln hosted a concert event in September and also constructed an experiential event around the new Navigator. Similar events will take place in coming years via the extended collaboration with Hughes, the company said.
Lincoln is also working to change the car-buying experience, enabling 24-to-48-hour test drives, after which a dealer representative can bring financing and insurance paperwork to a customers house and leave the vehicle behind, if the customer decides to buy.
“Our lives are expanding,”Galhotra said. “Things that used to be effortful have become effortless.”
Lincoln doesn’t want to miss out on that trend. And the effort extends to every aspect of the brand.
The results thus far have been encouraging. Sales for 2017 are on track to nearly match 2016’s, when Lincoln sold about 112,000 new cars and SUVs and enjoyed its best year since the brand’s turnaround began.
And while Lincoln sells fewer vehicles annually than Cadillac, it has been able to grow sales at a time when the market appears to be flattening ahead of a downturn, especially for luxury badges.
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