Lincoln design director Max Wolff says he’s “not much of an automotive historian” and would rather look forward.
MKZ concept hint of things to come.
Lincoln’s future models won’t necessarily share common design cues throughout the lineup as has been the case in the past, says design director Max Wolff.
Over the past decade, several designers have tried their hand at revamping the luxury marque, but to no avail.
Many of them leveraged past Lincoln design cues. Such was the case with the last stylist tasked with reshaping the brand, Peter Horbury, who brought back the split-grille design from the 1940s.
Forcing shared styling cues on different vehicle types inhibits the “character” of the vehicle from shining through, Wolff says.
“I think the design language has to be broad enough so we can let the character of the different vehicle types express themselves,” he tells WardsAuto in a recent interview.
“You’ll probably see key Lincoln cues across the range, but we’re not going to just go through and do some of the ‘put-together’ designs we’ve done in the past.”
Indeed, it’s probable that no cues from Lincoln’s past will make it to future models, Wolff says, acknowledging he’s not much of an automotive historian.
“The right thing to do now is look toward the future,” he says.
Wolff, who joined Lincoln in 2010 following a successful stint at cross-town rival Cadillac, where he penned the well-received XTS flagship sedan, faces a monumental task in rebuilding’s once-proud luxury marque.
Lincoln sales have fallen precipitously from their peak in 1990 when 231,660 units were sold in the U.S., to just 85,643 last year, according to WardsAuto data.
The 39-year-old designer is optimistic Lincoln once again can be competitive in the U.S. luxury segment, but says it will have to take a path different from segment leaders such as Mercedes-Benz and.
“I think there is an opportunity to be just a little bit more personal, more bespoke,” Wolff says, “whereas with a more mainstream brand you have to cater to a wider variety of people.”
While trying to carve out a niche for Lincoln in the crowded U.S. luxury market, he’s also wary of designing models that too closely resemble’s mainstream products, which has drawn criticism of the marque in the past.
“It’s important for Lincoln to have differentiated exterior and interiors, because our customers are different,” Wolff says. “So everything we do from a design perspective is based on a different set of premises than what we might do for the more mainstream brands.”
Luxury vehicles differ from their mass-market counterparts in several ways, including having advanced technologies made possible by higher sticker prices, he says.
He cites the push-button transmission on the MKZ sedan concept, revealed at last month’s Detroit auto show, as an example.
The transmission “allows us to free up space in the center console area and allow the design team to produce a beautiful piece of unexpected sculpture you don’t see in any other vehicle,” Wolff says.
Another difference between mass-market and luxury vehicles is the upscale brands’ “sensibility,” he says, noting the Lincoln team hopes to turn the marque into a “boutique” brand.
Wolff’s first priority is to reestablish the brand in North America, pointing to the MKZ concept as an indicator of things to come. Lincoln plans seven new models in the next two years. First is the new MKZ due later this year.
As a seasoned automotive veteran, Wolff knows the design philosophy of concept vehicles sometimes gets lost by the time the product reaches production.
“It’s absolutely important to get as much into production as possible,” he says of the MKZ concept.
If the brand once again becomes successful in its home market, Wolff doesn’t rule out that Lincoln someday could be sold globally. “We design all our products with an eye toward global markets, and we don’t do anything that will stop us from selling a car internationally.”