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Monday, January 09, 2006

 

Detroit Auto Show Day 2

As I mentioned yesterday, don't expect exhaustive coverage...my focus is commentary on the overall show and on products where I think I can add some value or knowledge. For "exhaustive" coverage I direct you to MSN Auto, they are providing "bumper to bumper" coverage.

Lincoln

Lincoln once consistently gave Cadillac a run for its money in the luxury segment - some of us remember an apology from Cadillac to Lincoln for manipulating year-end sales figures to keep their sales crown in 1998. Those were the "good old days." DeVilles and Town Cars were the quintessential expression of American luxury and Lexus, Acura and Infinity were just finding their legs. Fast Forward past 15 years of European and Japanese product introductions and Lincoln has become almost irrelevant in the core luxury volume market. I can remember Ford finance execs explaining that the Town Car contributed a signficant percentage of the company's total profit in those days. Today, the biggest question facing the Lincoln brand is this: How do you recapture the brand's unique American character and express it with product excellence?

One answer suggested by Lincoln is to enter the rapidly growing CUV segment with the 2007 Lincoln MKX (Mark X). Strategically, Lincoln seems to be saying that they prefer to outflank the competition rather than attempting a frontal assault at the core entry and mid-luxury entries offered by the competition.

"People's attitudes are shifting," said Peter Horbury, exec. director North American Design. "This is an opportunity for Lincoln to reclaim its rightful place in the American luxury market."

Let's hope so. The 5 passenger Lincoln MKX seems to have the right accoutrements; 3.5 liter engine with 6 speed transmission, the Vista roof (also seen in the Ford Edge CUV entry), the largest cargo area in its class and the usual power and safety features expected in a proper luxury entry. The ultimate question will be answered soon. Vehicle Dynamics and quality must be competitive or the MKX will have the rapid rise and fall of the unfortunate LS. Large cargo areas don't win customer favor. In the ad business we learned the hard way that better rear seat legroom didn't help the Tempo and Taurus compete with the Accord (really...we had that on the comparison charts). And it won't be a deciding factor between a Lexus and a Lincoln.

If I had a vote, I'd vote for Lincoln to develop and produce mid-size and large entry luxury sedans that make Americans want to buy domestic again. To me, the CUV is simply a more sensible version of the SUV. 98% of Americans NEVER go off road anyway. The CUV simply moves the balance of execution in the direction of sedan refinement and away from SUV crudeness. If you squint, every CUV looks like an SUV without the OWL tires.

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