SANTA BARBARA, CA – Lincoln officials say the launch of the MKC CUV will go more smoothly than that of the MKZ midsize sedan, which was held back from the market for months due to unforeseen quality issues.

“What we learned is we needed to have a more robust set of senior management reviews along the way, so we added prototype builds that we didn’t have with MKZ,” Matt VanDyke, director-Global Lincoln, tells WardsAuto during an MKC test drive here.

“And we added dedicated launch-team members from a manufacturing and product-development perspective that we didn’t have with MKZ that we realized we needed to have with MKC,” he says.

VanDyke says the Louisville assembly plant is very stable and has been operating consistently. The MKZ is sourced from the automaker’s Hermosillo, Mexico, facility.

The Louisville plant now has a luxury-car validation center with dedicated personnel who have received specialized training.

“They go over (MKC units) with a white glove and fine-tooth comb to ensure the quality and craftsmanship we developed into the line is being delivered to our customers,” VanDyke says. “So far, we’re on plan with MKC.”

The launch of the MKZ early last year was hampered by problems other than quality issues, which Ford never revealed. One glaring error was the airing of a multi-million-dollar Super Bowl ad before units had arrived in dealerships in sufficient quantities.

This time around Lincoln plans a carefully timed marketing strategy that begins with social media campaigns and short spots in movie theaters, before a ramping up advertising in late summer.

“We’re paying careful attention to how we’re doing the marketing launch,” VanDyke says. “We want to especially time right our activities so we’re not as early as we were last time.”

Like the MKZ, the MKC is another critical vehicle for Lincoln as it attempts to gain relevancy in the ultra-competitive luxury market. The small-luxury-CUV segment is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. and in China, the two markets Lincoln is planning to drive MKC sales.

“We absolutely have to succeed in both markets,” VanDyke says. “Each is crucial to how we behave going forward, and both are very different. China is a blank sheet of paper and we have a legacy in the U.S. Much of it is a wonderful heritage, but a lot of it is work we have to do to overcome challenges.”

The executive declines to reveal volume expectations for the MKC in either market, but says the CUV should be one of the more popular models in the Lincoln showroom.

“We recognize we have to grow and develop our lineup and our dealers need that added throughput to invest in their people, processes and facilities to really thrive,” he says. “It won’t double sales, but it will be a substantial volume player.”

Lincoln in the past has been criticized for vehicles that look too much like the Ford products they are based on. Although the MKC is derived from the Ford Escape CUV, there are more differences than similarities.

The MKC receives a 2.3L turbocharged EcoBoost engine not available on the Escape. Additionally, the track has been widened, and the hood and floor panel lowered.

“Eighty-five percent of visual parts are unique from Ford and 65% of all parts are differentiated,” VanDyke says. “This product was not, ‘Let’s start with an Escape and make changes to it.’ It was, ‘Let’s look at the segment competitors and figure out things we need to do and make choices in order to compete.’”