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10 Ways To Save Lincoln

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There’s still time to rescue the brand, and have it retake its rightful share of the luxury market.

Never has there been a more dedicated band of starry-eyed optimists than the surviving Lincoln dealers.

These brave souls have jumped through every hoop and swallowed every bitter pill the manufacturer served with hardly a whimper. They put up the money and built the upgraded facilities, separated their showrooms, and upped their game in anticipation of the rivers of milk and honey in the Promised Land.

Of course reality always trumps fantasy. Truth is, it just ain’t happening.

I don’t think it’s ever going to happen if Lincoln stays on the current course. Please remember, I love Ford. I regard Alan Mulally, Mark Fields and Jim Farley as personal friends. This is not mean-spirited Jim Ziegler talking here. 

I speak to these dealers when they come back from automaker meetings worked up in a frenzy of excitement. Talk to them a few weeks later, and they’re back to the grind of moving these cars in a market where they are the underdog.

Last year it was the MKZ midsize. This was billed as the future of the brand. Then, after a dismally inept launch, Lincoln is refocused on the upcoming launch of the MKC cross/utility vehicle.

Excuse me, this is Jim Ziegler talking from the heart. I have a special place in my heart for Lincoln. I drove them in the glory days. I owned nine Town Cars and several Mark VII’s back-to-back. Watching the brand go downhill has hurt me, as I now drive Cadillacs and Buicks. Sad to say, their quality is scoring higher and the models are more appealing.

There’s still time to save Lincoln and have it retake its rightful share of the luxury market. But the clock is ticking and the brand is totally on the wrong path. I don’t always claim to be the great and powerful wizard, but; here are some of the things I would do immediately.

Get rid of that God-awful ugly-ass grille you’re so proud of.  I have talked to numerous consumers and it’s hard to find anyone who believes it’s attractive, classy or stylish.

Put a full-court press on modernizing and upgrading the Navigator. What genius-thinking has allowed your flagship full-sized luxury SUV to become a stale, old- technology, outdated, jazzed-up Expedition with a navigation panel the size of a postage stamp?

Let’s see, Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator. Let me think for second here? Perception is reality. Ford threw away the full-sized SUV market all at once.

MKZ, MKS, MKZ, MKT now MKC. This is absolutely stoo-pid thinking. Did somebody on the marketing team have a lobotomy? Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the foggiest idea what those models are.

I used to always say that American vehicles should have names. American luxury has personality and swagger. Put exciting and innovative names on Lincoln models, and stop changing them all of the time.

Get rid of the MKT cross/utility vehicle. It is an abomination, a Frankenstein of a CUV. (And, while you’re at it, dump the Ford Flex too). And while I’m on a rant, who the hell thought it would be okay to put the “Town Car” name on an MKT?

While we’re on the subject, explain again exactly why the real Town Car was discontinued?

Yes, it was long of tooth and getting stale, but who allowed that to happen? It was extremely profitable at the time of its execution and you certainly threw away the livery business that you once owned. There is a market for full-sized luxury and you axed your entrant before you had anything legitimate to replace it with.

You are so eaten up with chasing Generation Y that you totally threw away your bread and butter, the Baby Boomers. I’m talking about 77 million consumers who have more than 75% of America’s wealth and buy 60% of the new cars.

We’re talking about sane and stable people here who used to always buy your products. Now, you threw them to the four winds because you were concentrating on Generation Y’ers living in Mom’s basement. Build cars aimed at people who are qualified to buy, who can and will buy now.

Call me crazy. Everyone else seems to. But, I would halo a Lincoln semi-performance pony car squarely aimed at the Generation X professional that now buys BMW. It wouldn’t be a Mustang, but a Lincoln with its own persona.

Even Acura is bringing back the NSX. I would design a $60,000 Lincoln sports car that would have the entire world talking. Sorry, the MKZ isn’t what I’m describing here.

Try to think of some other incentive programs other than leasing to attract new customers. Once again, you’re too fixated on trying to be like the Europeans. It’s been a long time since Lincoln has thought outside of the incentive-program box. It’s same old, same old. The MKZ launch was an example of right car, bad execution. Your dealers did not let you down, you blew it.

Simplify the technology. I am applauding your return to sanity on new models with manual controls that consumers can understand and operate and don’t cause distracted driving. My wife is now driving a Cadillac again, but when she drove Mercedes and BMW, she felt she needed an engineering degree to operate those cars’ infotainment systems.

Finally, admit when you’re wrong. I know this is difficult for any executive that works for any automaker.

For 38 years in the industry I’ve watched thousands of factory executives come and go. It’s always the same. The new ones come in the business thinking they know more about retail than the dealers. They try the same old crap that didn’t work before.

It’s an endless cycle. By the time we get you trained as to what really works, here comes the next generation. Another constant: Going to your dealers to bail you out.

I believe Ford has some of the best top executives we’ve seen in decades. But they’re not infallible. My ideas might not all be the best, but at least I’m thinking. And thinking on a different track.

Okay, the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention is in New Orleans next month. Please find me and say hello. I’ll be all over the convention floor. Dealers please go and participate. Take a copy of this article to the Lincoln make meetings. They’ll like that. Tell the factory guys Ziegler sends his love.

Jim Ziegler is president of Ziegler Supersystems as well as a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at zieglerss@aol.com. WardsAuto readers also may comment on this article by logging in or registering below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 14

on Dec 8, 2013

Couldn't disagree more. Lincoln isn't interested in old school Town Car drivers. They want 21st Century consumers who are interested in modern posh with great technology. The new Lincoln MKZ has the best tech of it's competitors, and the ride and handling are excellent for real-world driving. For conscious consumers that want to make a smaller carbon footprint (maybe you better Google that), they make the most fuel efficient hybrid in the segment. As far as design, it has a very low drag coefficient--and the grill looks awesome.

on Dec 8, 2013

YUP! You are 100% right. They are no longer interested in people that can and will buy Lincolns.

They are chasing asinine concepts like "The Lincoln Essence" (The Smell of Luxury). It is buffoonery like this that has lost the market. Randy, keep blowing that tired party-line tune, of course nobody believes it. We have yet to see those mythological 21st century consumers beating a path to Lincoln showrooms.

As far a s the Grill looking awesome, I'll have a puff of what you're obviously smoking. JIM

on Dec 8, 2013

YUP! You are 100% right. They are no longer interested in people that can and will buy Lincolns.

They are chasing asinine concepts like "The Lincoln Essence" (The Smell of Luxury). It is buffoonery like this that has lost the market. Randy, keep blowing that tired party-line tune, of course nobody believes it. We have yet to see those mythological 21st century consumers beating a path to Lincoln showrooms.

As far a s the Grill looking awesome, I'll have a puff of what you're obviously smoking. JIM

on Dec 8, 2013

I appreciate the opinions from Jim. I agree with most of the observations. The naming of the vehicles is ridiculous. They need real names. If you want to set yourself apart as a luxury brand, you can not follow the pack. The Navigator was once the king of large suv's. Now it is an outdated "value" status symbol. Although, I will say that it has a fold flat rear seat that the competition still can't engineer into their vehicles.
Other than the very poor launch and communication with the dealers, the MKZ is magnificent and in my opinion crushes the competition. I even like the grill. The MKT actually sells well in my market and it is one of my favorite vehicles to drive. I also think that My Lincoln Touch is a great infotainment system that gets upgrades to make it better all the time.
I believe that Lincoln does not know what to do. Are they going to be efficient? Performance? Green? I don't know. All they seem to be good at is making up more rules for the dealer to follow. The message is flat and must be made very clear for people to consider a Lincoln.
Let's face it. People will try anything. A 60k Hyundai? A luxury KIA? Lincoln has the brains and the means. They simply need a clear plan....and some additional models...yeah, that would be nice.

on Dec 8, 2013

Hi J Z Firstly great article & addresses a passion of mine so thank you. My Love affair begins at age 28 in 1979 when I bought my 1976 Lincoln Mark IV "Cartier" . With just 40,000 miles , I thought I had arrived in driver heaven. Just a few months later I arrived at a Ford & Mercury store in N.E. PA & that's when my 32 year career in this AWESOME Business begin. My second month I sold 23 cars and I have never stopped loving this business . Subsequently I became GM of that store & 10 years later moved to another Ford/Mercury point & 5 years later my Dream came true, VP/GM of a FLM point....But along the way Lincoln started to loose focus & I saw the advent of Acura etc ....just to wonder why this World Class Product was being allowed to shrink in importance. Fast forward 19 years & I am out of the Dealer Game & driving 2 BMW's. OUCH !!!. Will Lincoln ever wake up to the Premium Brand Experience ???? I don't know but I do hope so. Future posts will be shorter ....I promise.

on Dec 9, 2013

I think a lot of what you said makes sense. A few points:
1. Cadillac goes to the races (or at least they did recently. I'm not up to the minute on that). I don't think Lincoln has a vehicle that could even hope to compete
2. Years ago, when Cadillac introduce their angular, edgy styling, I thought it was hard to take, visually. But Cadillac believed in it, and stuck with it, and now Cadillac sells cars.
3. Having a presence in the livery market is not the same as having a presence in the rental car market. Respectively, the first is good, in the second, it looks like you're dumping cars.
4. Sorry, but I like the Flex. It seems lean and flat, where an SUV is large, bulbous and feels that way.
Sorry for the rant!

on Dec 9, 2013

An excellent article! Couple of comments....
1) Caddy seems to be doing well without Named Vehicles (CTS, et al). but I confess, the initials are confusing. What would impress the country club crowd more, saying you drive an MKZ, or Town Car?

2) The first thing Lincoln needs to do (and Caddy has done so) is stop re-branding Fords as Lincolns. Swapping grilles and putting wider taillights is transparent to even the most loyal buyer. Lincoln engines and drivetrain, suspension, etc need to be distinct and world class.

3) the "Lincoln Zephyr" grille is a metaphor (?) even people who remember the LZ don't get. Butt ugly. Is that how you attract new buyers, by emulating a 70-yr-old grille???

4) for god's sake, hire some fresh styling talent! Or cut the existing ones loose!

on Dec 9, 2013

I agree 100% with Jim.
Who believes customers can distinguish/remember does ridiculous names?????
I should be their target customer - Cadillac driver - and their products do not excite me.

on Dec 10, 2013

Jim, hope the knee has rehabbed well ...been there done that, LOL. Lincoln...it's a patient on life support that needs either last rights or a heart transplant. Problem is lack of commitment from the top down. Also Lincoln has a bunch of managers who have never seen or experienced Lincoln is its' glory-days...they only know the struggle. However, at this point, the past is meaningless. Look forward
Here's the plan: Operation:WHAT WOULD THE DUECE DO?
(He'd go big or go home!)
1 .AT NADA...Mulally / Fields declares a 10 year-- billion dollar + commitment to the marque. 2. Declares priorities: Three new SUV's, & Town Car replacement in 18 months 4. Halo Hybrid Supercar. 5. Dump the alphabet soup names immediately. 6. Define what Lincoln is, American Luxury, not BMW, not Lexus, but understands demographics have shifted, it's not 1985 either. Ten years ago Caddy defined its path as arts & science & stuck to it. Ditto. Make defining Lincoln a priority and stick to it .They Can't shift strategy every 18 months. 7. The commitment to success must flow down from the top down....they are saving the heritage of the brand. MKC is a good start (bad name) 8. Train, train & train dealer personnel. Most lack commitment & focus now. Lincoln as a luxury marque is a laughing stock, worse than Acura. The Board of Directors must make a commitment and quite being YES MEN. Either allocate the money to a ten year strategy, understand its a long term investment & experiment that requires risk (balls) and they will probably lose money for 5-6 of those years....Is the Lincoln brand worth a huge investment & do you have the guts to roll the dice?
Dear Board: What would The Duce Do ?

on Dec 10, 2013

Jim,

You are mostly correct. Navigator is a sorry joke. And the Lincoln grille - I have tried, but just cannot warm up to it. I am 50 and currently driving a 2008 Impala. Bought the wife a new mini-van last year. My turn is coming up. Know what cars are pulling my trigger? The Caddys, Chrysler 300, and the Chevy SS. Lincoln is not even on the radar. Taurus SHO is not bad, but a performance sedan should not say "Eco Boost" on the fender. It should say "Twin Turbo".

on Dec 10, 2013

Jim, you and the Lincoln Dealers (those poor souls) are the only ones who actually care about what you are writing. If Ford Management was serious about competing on the real turf of the sport/luxury world, they wouldn't have assembled a team of Ford managers to resurrect the brand and represent to top management what they really need in products, performance, representation and overall branding...their cars don't deliver what ever their promise has been lately.... They don't know how... Also, Lincoln needs to do what Audi did, separate as much as possible away from Ford as they are from VW...who wants reskinned vehicles when there are BMW's and MB running around..Lincoln needs a leader, new designers and a separate organization both sales and service to regain credibility.

on Dec 12, 2013

Good article, Jim.
Plenty has been said already by the readers.
For at least 5 years, like many others, I have been commenting everywhere I could on the UGLY grill of Lincoln cars (never mind the very confusing 3-letter names).

They killed the only car in their resent design / styling that had a very nice looking front styling (but ugly rear end), and that is the LS.

Killing brand names because of quality issues is not a solution to an issue. It only tells me they lack the commitment to solve the problems.
Ford is famous with killing brand names. Escort, LS, Taurus (until the public outcry forced them to get it back), Town Car, ..., etc.
Brand names that are etched in the memory of customers for decades should NEVER, ever, be dropped.

We have a little more than one letter in the English Alphabet to use. Limiting yourself to one letter is stupid (Focus, Fiesta, Fusion, Flex, Five-Hundred, ..., etc.). Dump the stupid "F".

Ford only needs to look at the Honda and Toyota brands.
No matter what issues they have encountered over the decades, they never dumped their brand names (Accord, Civic, Camry, Corolla, Land Cruiser, ...).
They solved the problems!

Lincoln can still bring back the front styling of the LS (and its beautiful handling), and redesign the rear to something beautiful, and I will be buying it in a heartbeat!

After 17 years of buying and leasing FLM vehicles (since 1992; prior to that year I only drove German cars), I am now driving a Honda product. I just don't see any Lincoln product screaming at me "buy me, buy me"!
Sorry to disagree with you on Cadillacs. I am not a "Cadillac Style!", and I hate their external styling as well.

I also agree 100% with you on the butt-ugly Ford Flex.

I don't know if the styling department is becoming brain-dead, or if it is being crippled by Business or Accounting degrees at the higher level!
Do they still have any "car guys" left in the company? Mark Fields let go of most of the engineering force, that knew about cars, in the past 5 or 7 years, sadly.

As long as they continue to ignore customer input, and insist on their butt-ugly styling, they will be getting closer and closer to the cemetery.

on Dec 12, 2013

The last Lincoln I really liked was the Mark VIII. Nice lines and a lot of power. It all went downhill from there. I think you are right about one thing though. They don't have "car guys" or car women" that work there anymore. It's a shame that EBITDA and financial benchmarks have taken a priority over design and innovative style.

on Dec 13, 2013

WOW! All I can say about this article and these great comments. It really doesn't matter how much agree or disagree with is being said. THE TRUTH is that this article ha spurred a lot of focus and attention on these issues. My purpose in writing it has been achieved.

In the last few weeks I've received hundreds of comments, emails, phone calls and private messages about this subject. It is hot and the flames are spreading as Dealers discuss it and actually send it one to another virally in the actual world as well as in the virtual world.

Not just Lincoln dealers BUT Ford Dealers and even other makes and models have come into comparison. It will be a hot topic still very much alive and out front by the time the NADA Convention happens.

I will disagree with one commentator however, there are more people that care about this issue than just me and the Lincoln dealers. It is about the OEMs keeping their commitments to the dealers after the dealers did everything they asked.

It's about OEMs getting real-world focused instead of asking dealers to install silly-ass "Smell of Luxury" air fresheners to pump into the ventilation systems of their nearly vacant showrooms. (They are actually doing that) Keep the letters, calls, emails and comments happening - JIM

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Steve Finlay

Steve Finlay is the editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine and a senior editor for WardsAuto.com. His journalism career started 42 years ago as a crime reporter. A Michigan native, he likes...

Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues.
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