DETROIT – Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln Div. finally gets a pickup truck. The Mark LT will be in showrooms in first-quarter 2005.

The near-luxury brand shows a 4X4 concept pickup here with bright chrome finish for the full length of the vehicle and an interior trimmed in aluminum. It rides on 20-in. wheels and will adopt Ford’s 5.4L Triton V-8 engine.

Why a pickup for Lincoln? “We like to make money,” quips Phil Martens, group vice president-North America product creation. It was not done by accident, he says. The new F-150 is very refined, and the auto maker realized there is a market for a Lincoln model as well. And there was a push for one from within product development as well as from dealers, executives say.

The Lincoln pickup, a crew cab with a 5.5-ft. (1.7-m) bed, will be assembled at the Dearborn assembly plant, but will not be high volume, Martens says.

Lincoln also uses the North American International Auto Show to unveil a concept of the next-generation Aviator that takes the truck from an SUV (never its original intent) to the 5-door midsize cross/utility vehicle it envisioned for the brand. (See related story: Aviator to Pilot Incremental Sales for Lincoln)

Lincoln Aviator concept

This concept, the first vehicle derived from the Ford Futura platform that itself is based on the Mazda6 architecture, is aimed at such competitors as the Lexus RX 330 and Acura MDX.

It will sport a 300-hp, all-aluminum 3.5L V-6 engine and offers permanent all-wheel drive. With generous use of wood accents, it continues the idea of traveling well, says J Mays, group vice president-design.

The current Aviator met both sales and conquest objectives, says John Fitzpatrick, general marketing manager-Mercury Lincoln. Almost half the sales were buyers new to the Lincoln brand.

But the brand needed a true CUV to perpetuate its image of effortless driving and near-luxury, says Susan Pacheco, director-Lincoln Mercury nameplates.

In other offerings, the Ford Thunderbird/Lincoln LS platform gives birth to a roadster concept, the Lincoln Mark X. Design cues from the Thunderbird are undeniable. It also sports a retractable hardtop.

“Lincoln could do well with the Mark X,” says Martens. “The Thunderbird is a great base for it in terms of chassis and powertrain and a new V-8.”

Martens says the auto maker will use the Detroit show to gauge reaction. If it were to go into production, it would not be an LS replacement, he stresses. “It would be more of icing on the cake.”

Meanwhile, Lincoln Mercury is enjoying renewed life with the promise of beefing up showrooms in a short time – 11 new vehicles between them over the next three years.

The morale boost started with the move back to Dearborn from Irvine, CA, in 2003, says Darryl B. Hazel, president-Lincoln Mercury. Employees and dealers are finding it easier to get work done with all aspects of the business in close proximity.

Lincoln in 2003 saw its first year-over-year sales increase since 2000, fueled by the LS, Navigator and Aviator, and could have done better with more product, says Hazel.

Going forward, the brand will have more trucks and enter the CUV market while staying serious about cars, he says. The Navigator gains the new 5.4L 3-valve V-8 engine next spring as well as a new 6-speed transmission.

Mercury will have added four new products in about two years and a total of seven by year-end – the most in 37 years.

It started with the addition of the Monterey minivan to the existing lineup of the Grand Marquis, Mountaineer and Sable. It continues with late-year introductions of the Mariner compact SUV (sister to the Ford Escape), and the all-new ’05 Montego midsize sedan, which shares a platform with the Ford Five Hundred sedan and Freestyle CUV.

See related stories:
Ford Flouts New Car Flagship
Ford Confident Freestyle Hits CUV Bull’s Eye

Look for a smaller sedan from the Ford Futura platform, as well. It will be perfect for the Mercury brand, complete with waterfall grille, says Pacheco.

Pacheco admits the customer can’t see the Mercury image (modern, smart, near-luxury) in the showroom yet, but says it will be recognizable with the new products coming.

“A year from now it will be very evident,” she says.

It’s a welcome turnaround from 2003 when dealers faced losing 15,000 retail sales due to discontinued vehicles, leaving them with only seven nameplates. Despite the disadvantage, dealers saw a 25% increase in profit, on average, says Fitzpatrick.

And because the number of dealers was not reduced, the network can handle the bumped up portfolio in the years ahead, he says.

apriddle@primediabusiness.com