NEW YORK – At this city’s auto show known for featuring luxury cars of the highest order, Ford’s chief operating officer says the automaker is determined to restore its ailing dowager empress Lincoln brand to its former glory.

“We’re committed to turning Lincoln into a first-class luxury brand,” Mark Fields says at a media breakfast for the opening of the New York International Auto Show.

He likens Lincoln’s prospective mountain-climb to “the same journey” Ford took when it recovered nicely from the hard times of a few years ago.

“It starts with great product and then with treating the customer right,” Fields says of the Lincoln game plan. “We’re also going global, including introducing Lincoln in China in a few years.”

The world’s largest car market since 2009, China is expected to become the world’s largest luxury-vehicle market as well, Fields says.

Lincoln once was the No.2 luxury brand in the U.S., behind Cadillac in sales. With sales of 81,694 vehicles in 2013, Lincoln now is No.8 in the luxury car market, with four straight years of declining deliveries, according to WardsAuto data. Mercedes-Benz holds the segment’s gold medal with sales of 334,324 units in 2013.

Lincoln is in the midst of rolling out four models, starting with the MKZ midsize sedan that’s currently on the market. The ’15 MKC CUV soon will join it.

Farther out, Fields says Ford wants to become not only an automaker but also a mobility company. He speaks of partnering with high-technology firms and working with universities on self-driving-vehicle projects.

Successful business innovators do three things, he says. “They understand the world will change. They anticipate how that will affect consumers. They anticipate consumers’ spoken wants and unspoken needs.

“The reward is not only massive business growth, but a chance to change the world.”

Among innovators he cites is Zipcar, a car-sharing company that some people in the auto industry see as a potential threat to vehicle sales of the future.

“Zipcar now has 860,000 members and continues to see growth,” Fields says.

He speaks of his Brooklyn boyhood and as a 4-year-old seeing the all-new Ford Mustang on display at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.

“I remember my dad lifting me on his shoulders to see it, but I didn’t realize then what a significant car it would become,” Fields says.

Ford unveils a limited-edition Mustang at the New York auto show. It goes on sale in the fall. The company will make fewer than 2,000 units.

The automaker dramatically marks the Mustang’s 50th anniversary by displaying a ’15 model on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.

The car was disassembled, transported by elevators and then reassembled for the event, a re-creation of what Ford did a half-century ago with a first-year Mustang.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com