Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury Div. has a new export strategy for Europe — and this one appears to have the blessing of Premier Automotive Group head Wolfgang Reitzle.
Mr. Reitzle scuttled earlier plans to export the Lincoln LS because he believed the car would take sales away from the Volvo S80 and not expand PAG's overall penetration in Europe.
The new strategy, which calls for marketing Lincoln more as a contemporary American luxury car in order to avoid that conflict, would be targeted for the middle of the decade, Lincoln officials say.
“We need the extra volume that exporting can give us,” says Jim Rogers, vice president-sales and marketing for Lincoln Mercury.
Experience with the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type may have given impetus to the new export plan. Though they share a platform, the two cars are not cross-shopped in the U.S., executives say, and Lincoln now believes that will be true elsewhere. Buyers attracted to contemporary American luxury in Europe probably won't be drawn to Jaguar or Volvo, Mr. Rogers contends.
It will be some time before Lincoln is ready to make its move on Europe, however.
“Lincoln has strong name recognition in Canada and Mexico, but in many other overseas markets we have a fuzzy image,” Mr. Rogers says. “That's why we're not ready to enter Europe. (But) we have a very specific timetable to get it done.”
Lincoln team members who have been sent to Europe to study the market believe Europeans want a warm, open, honest and genuine car that is intrinsically American, Mr. Rogers says. At the same time, he promises that Lincoln's export models will have international appeal.
“Cadillac is not going where we're going,” Mr. Rogers says. “They're not going after confident, relaxed, genuine American luxury that we're going after.” He defines Cadillac's cars announced for export as having “over the top American luxury.”
Lincoln hopes to generate enough international sales to get a significant bump in overall volume. “Our objective is to increase the present 250,000 annual sales substantially with the help of overseas sales,” Mr. Rogers says. “Lincoln's viability as a luxury brand is dependent on how well its products can sell overseas.”
Lincoln executives believe Europeans will want American cars for their comfort and performance. “European cars provide a lot of performance and not much comfort — or a lot of comfort and little performance,” Mr. Rogers says.
He says his team has concluded that Lincoln would need at least three models and a variety of engines for a viable export program. “We can't just create an overseas presence with the LS,” he says.
In addition, Lincoln would have to create a distribution network from scratch in overseas markets.
“We can't use thedistribution network in Europe because they have no experience in selling luxury cars,” he says. “How we service cars and how we treat customers is vital to our success.”