By Andrew Ganz
Friday, Jun 10th, 2011 @ 10:27 am
 
As sales of Ford's historic Lincoln brand continue to slip - down about 8 percent so far this year - the automaker now says that it will unveil refreshed versions of its two largest vehicles later this year.

The automaker accelerated plans to redesign its full-size MKS sedan and three-row MKT crossover earlier this year, even though the two models were only introduced for 2009 and 2010, respectively. Neither model was a critical or sales success, with sales off 40 percent so far this year for the sedan and 38 percent for the crossover. In fact, the MKT is Lincoln's slowest seller - through May, the brand had only delivered 2,112 units in the United States.

Critics, including Leftlane, have suggested that Lincoln lacked focus - something that Ford global product chief Derrick Kuzak says the revitalized models will help provide the 96-year-old brand.

"Lincoln will give [customers] opportunities to tell a story about what is unique in their vehicle," Kuzak said. "You think of BMW as engaging to drive; you can think of Lexus as refined. Bring them together and it is a new experience no customer has ever had."

Ford says it is upping the tech factor of its Lincoln models as a way of standing out in the increasingly competitive luxury car segment that is dominated by German and Japanese brands, as well as Lincoln's traditional adversary, Cadillac. The WSJ says that Lincoln is planning to introduce noise-canceling technology to make its models quieter, a trick already used by Honda's Acura brand but seen on few other luxury cars, as well as an upgraded version of the MyLincolnTouch system recently introduced in the MKX crossover. Computer-adjustable steering and suspension capability is also on the way for Lincoln's lineup, according to the report.

Kuzak says that seven new Lincolns are on the way over the next few years. Although they are still expected to share most of their architecture with Fords, Kuzak promises more differentiation and more exclusive, upmarket features, something the brand has been sorely lacking since it gave up its luxury market sales title in the mid-1990s.

Lincoln has already had a taste of success with its newest nameplate, the MKZ Hybrid. Introduced late last year, the MKZ Hybrid broke new ground for Lincoln in several ways by not only providing Lincoln with its first-ever hybrid, but also by introducing the market to its first-ever entry-level midsize luxury hybrid. After years of playing catch-up, Lincoln finally introduced something new to the segment. Much larger than the Lexus HS 250h, the MKZ has found relatively strong sales success - especially since it is priced identically to the non-hybrid MKZ. Sales for the MKZ range are up 23 percent this year and Lincoln says that a much higher-than-expected share of deliveries are hybrid models.

It is that recipe of introducing something new and different that compels shoppers to consider Lincolns that Kuzak and Ford hope will reinvigorate the brand's other models.

Look for the redesigned MKS and MKT to be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November.

References
1.'Ford to Breathe...' view