Ford Motor Co.’s effort to field a successful entry in the luxury fullsize pickup truck segment is seeing some improvement with the Lincoln Mark LT, which went on sale in the U.S. in February 2005.

Ford moved 10,274 Mark LTs last year, a significant improvement on the 3,066 Lincoln Blackwoods delivered in 2002, the first and last full sales year for the vehicle, Ward’s data shows.

The Blackwood, which suffered from a variety of production issues, largely due to its innovative cargo box, was nixed in spring 2002. (See related story: Blackwood Burial Costs Subject of Debate)

Lincoln Mark LT

Ford officials predicted annual output of 10,000-20,000 units at the Mark LT’s production launch at the Dearborn Rouge plant last year. A Lincoln spokeswoman said at the time internal projections for the model were 13,000 annual sales. (See related story: Lincoln Cloudy on Pickup Expectations)

But, given how narrow the appeal is for a luxury pickup truck, one analyst says the Mark LT’s sales are a victory for Ford.

“I think if you can get it above 10,000 units (in that segment), you should consider yourself a success,” says Rebecca Lindland, senior analyst for forecast firm Global Insight.

Nevertheless, she is projecting the luxury pickup’s sales volume to decline this year, as well as in 2007, due to its niche appeal.

“It’s very much a specialty vehicle,” Lindland says. “It’s unrealistic to expect it to continue to have strong sales in the five digits.”

Lincoln officials, while not offering any sales projections, say they are content with the Mark LT’s performance to date.

“The vehicle is selling to expectations,” Sandie Deas, marketing manager for the Mark LT tells Ward’s. “We already have exceeded our key competitors’ sales.”

Last year, sales of the Mark LT’s primary competitor, General Motors Corp.’s Cadillac Escalade EXT, slid 19.4% to 7,766 units from prior-year, down from the 13,494 units sold in 2001, its first full sales year. The vehicle’s sales have fallen every year since its launch.

Lincoln also considers the GMC Sierra Denali a rival. GM does not break out Denali sales, but sales of the entire Sierra fullsize pickup lineup were down 7.4% to 229,488 units last year.

Deas says she is not concerned about the forthcoming next-generation ’07 Escalade EXT and Sierra Denali taking a bite out of Mark LT volume.

“I think we have a very unique selling proposition with the Mark LT,” she says. “True luxury meeting true functionality. That is not going to change, and we believe we’re going to be able to have that advantage.”

Deas predicts that as more Mark LTs are seen on the road awareness will heighten among consumers, leading to continued good sales. Response to the truck has been favorable, she says, noting most owners cite the exterior design and functionality of the fullsize bed as the most appealing qualities.

The sales mix for the Mark LT, which begins at $39,555 and is offered in just two trims – 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive – has been quite rich, Deas says.

“(Sales of the 4WD model have) been very heavy, even in some markets where you would expect (2WD models to sell better),” she says. The take rates for the Mark LT’s most notable options, a power sliding rear window and power moonroof, have been “very” high.

“When people buy a luxury vehicle, they are going to want all the available power amenities,” Deas reasons of the high take rates for the features.

Hefty incentives may have helped move the Mark LT off dealer lots, as well. Lincoln currently is offering $3,000 cash back or low financing rates for the vehicle. And buyers financing through Ford Credit can receive a $1,000 rebate.

Ford will show a refreshed version of the Mark LT at April’s New York auto show.

While Deas declines to elaborate on specifics, she says there will be some exterior enhancements and additional features and technologies available for the ’07 model year.

One attribute not likely to be added to the ’07 Mark LT is a flex-fuel designation.

Ford, along with GM, has been promoting heavily its lineup of vehicles capable of running on E85, which is 85% ethanol mixed with 15% gasoline. (See related story: Auto Makers Promote E85 at Chicago Show)

“At this time, I would have to say it isn’t planned,” Deas says of a flex-fuel Mark LT.

The Mark LT’s fuel economy is rated at 15 mpg city/19 mpg highway (15.7 L/100 km and 12.7 L/100 km) for the 2WD model and 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway (16.8 L/100 km and 13.1 L/100 km) for the 4WD variant.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com