Is China Lincoln’s promise land?
The Lincoln Motor Company is back. Well, at least the Lincoln brand has some life left in it. US sales are up by 35.9 percent through March 2014, well ahead of the industry average. Sales are still way below the hundreds of thousands of models that Ford’s luxury brand used to sell yearly about two decades ago, but its outlook is considerably brighter than in 2011 when Mercury was killed off.
On to China
Credit the all-new 2014 MKZ sedan with bolstering Lincoln sales and an upcoming MKC crossover with giving Lincoln dealers hope that additional customer interest is forthcoming. What also may help Lincoln’s visibility is its introduction in China, the world’s largest car buying market.
China is the auto industry’s lifeline, a market that quickly emerged as the global leader when US car sales tanked in 2009. Impervious to the recession, Chinese consumers snapped up nearly everything available to them, pushing year-over-year sales up by 30 percent or more for several years.
Though the Chinese market has since slowed down, analysts still expect that it may soon support 30 million cars sold annually, far above the 17+ million record for the US market. Ford, like all the other automotive players in China, wants to increase sales. Until now, only the Ford brand has been sold there — Lincoln sales start later this year.
The Lincoln Space
Leading up to the Beijing auto show, Ford formally introduced Lincoln, promising to bring a “new breed” of global vehicles to China. The Lincoln MKZ and MKC will kick things off this fall with three more models added by 2016. Those three include a midsize luxury SUV (MKX), a midsize luxury sedan, and the Lincoln Navigator — its full-size, body-on-frame SUV.
For China, Ford developed a unique customer education experience dubbed The Lincoln Space to introduce the brand to the Chinese. Ford describes it as a “bespoke environment” in a bid to convey a “personalized luxury vehicle ownership experience” for Lincoln shoppers. Following its Beijing appearance, the exhibit will travel to other cities including Shanghai and Chengdu.
Like other luxury brands, Lincoln has been attempting to upgrade the customer buying experience. With a new network for China that effort is now underway, what could lead to further improvements stateside.
The Lincoln Way
“The Lincoln Way” is an initiative whereby Chinese car shoppers are provided with a tea room, a personalization studio, and personalized technologies to help them choose and build their Lincolns.
“The Lincoln Way captures how Lincoln sells and services its vehicles and how Lincoln customers experience the brand,” said Jim Farley, executive vice president, Ford global marketing, sales and service and Lincoln. “It completely shifts luxury automotive ownership from a sales and service transaction model to an experience model. It was designed in China based on the unmet expectations of luxury customers here, and it will launch here first.”
Ford says that Chinese customers are looking at luxury cars as a way to express their personality. No longer content with buying such vehicles to demonstrate their wealth, the automaker believes that Chinese consumers want to develop a personal relationship with their brands.
Bringing Forth Innovation
The automaker also says that the Chinese market allows the company to innovate, by trying out new methods to reach their customers. The company believes that China ultimately holds the key to Lincoln’s success and assumes that it will one day become its largest market. If so, then China will likely account for more than 160,000 units sold — the sales number Auto Trends has forecast for the brand stateside come 2016 — once the Lincoln MKC has been established.
Given up for dead by many following Mercury’s demise, Lincoln may once again find its place among the luxury brands. It won’t have the products of a Cadillac nor the cachet of a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but it may provide a match for Acura and deliver customer service not unlike Rolls-Royce.
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Photo courtesy of Lincoln Motor Company.