Spannerhead Dot

The Way Forward for Lincoln

September 27, 2011 by Matt

Old Lincoln Car Ad

Autoblog relays a report that Lincoln is planning to move away from their traditional “waterfall grille” styling cue. It had been something of a nominal addition, tacked on for years without any real context, but lately, with the ’07-present MK-generation of cars, it’s become more integrated into the cars’ overall design themes. I can’t say I’m sad to see it go—it’s the sort of brand-defining design feature that can easily completely overwhelm the front end, and so elaborate that it can make designers feel absolutely cornered aesthetically, with no way to design around the monstrosity that must live on the car’s nose. It’ll be interesting to see which direction the stylists take next.

Of course, the same could be said about the brand in general. Lincoln has been floundering for years, with no clear direction from their parent company Ford, dabbling with a few different approaches but never really committing to any. And now that their sister marque Mercury is dead, all eyes are on Lincoln as the last remaining Ford sub-brand. Will they find their way and survive? Or will they be euthanized as well, leaving Ford standing alone?

Assuming Lincoln is worth saving, let’s consider a few potential paths:

  1. Go Euro. Also known as “the Cadillac path.” Lincoln could decide that American tastes have fundamentally veered away from the traditional American soft, cushy luxoboat, and opt to completely ape their European competitors. They could make all their platforms RWD (with AWD as an option), offer stickshifts and focus on balance, quality and handling. They might even consider adding a wagon and giving it a funky name like “Avant” or “Touring.” At this point, Lincoln would be late to the party, as even the Japanese competition (Lexus, Infiniti) is chasing BMW and Mercedes. Cadillac distinguishes themselves with great whacking American pushrod V8 power and knife-edged design; it’s difficult to envision how Lincoln could make themselves stand out if they chose such a route. Besides, they’ve already dabbed their toe in that product development philosophy with the unloved ’00-’06 LS V6 and V8, so they might be a bit leery of tacking that direction again. Still, in the case of the LS, I maintain the flaw lay not in the concept, but in its lackluster execution and the lack of conviction behind it. So “going Euro” is still a viable option.
  2. Pull an Audi. I have in mind Audi of the early ’80s, when they spearheaded an innovative and promising technology (quattro AWD) and built their cars and brand around it. Audi became, for all intents and purposes, “the AWD automaker” and fastened lesser distinctives, such as beautifully tasteful styling, to that primary brand-defining attribute. By hitching its wagon to some up-and-coming technology, Lincoln could become “the _____ luxury automaker” going forward. It would give the company a characteristic to rally around and help elevate the brand’s profile in an overcrowded market segment.
  3. Double down. With luxury automakers like Cadillac and Buick abandoning the traditional definition of the American luxury car like rats on a sinking ship, Lincoln could wager the ship is still salvageable, and attempt to establish a niche as the last refuge of the American land barge. Granted, they’d have to update the type’s image somewhat for the 21st century (read: more efficiency), but the theoretical potential does exist for the big boulevard cruiser to experience a resurgence in the marketplace. It’s a long shot, but perhaps that’s the way to point Lincoln’s tiller.

Filed under: Car Industry, Lincoln, News

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