Will Lincoln Toss Its Current Naming Convention?

The Continental name has served Lincoln well and returns in 2017 in time for the marque’s centennial. Widespread support for the model name could mean that Lincoln will return to its heritage names.

2017 Lincoln Continental

The 2017 Lincoln Continental.

The Lincoln Motor Company (Lincoln) may have started something when it showcased its Continental Concept at the New York International Auto Show this spring. The proposed model, expected to replace the MKS for the 2017 model year, was well received. And not just for its good looks: the Continental name is coming back, one of the most venerable model names in the near 100-year history of the marque.

Three-Letter Nomenclature

The Continental moniker may presage a shift in model naming convention for the Lincoln brand, ending a decade long consecution of mystifying names that have left people scratching their heads. Presently, all models — except for the Navigator — begin with “MK” and end with a third letter. Thus, we have the MKZ and MKS sedans and the MKC, MKX and the MKT crossover utility vehicles.

Originally, the “MK” designation was supposed to represent “Mark” as in “Mark Z” or “Mark X.” But soon customers and everyone else were pronouncing each letter, rendering the original plan dysfunctional. The problem, however, has always been trying to understand what each letter represents.

Indeed, the first of the three-letter nomenclature models was the 2007 Lincoln MKZ. It derived its name from the Lincoln Zephyr, the name it used in the previous year — its first year of production. The Lincoln-Zephyr, by the way, was a low-priced entry luxury car produced by Lincoln from 1936-1940. Years later it was followed by other entry-level sedans, such as the Versailles and LS.

Following the MKS, the MKT, MKX and MKS debuted. The MKC is the most recent addition to the model line, a compact crossover introduced in spring 2014.

Out With the New, Bring Back the Old?

Yesterday, Automotive News gave its considerable credence to what was previously a rumor. The news outlet broached the naming convention subject with Joe Hinrichs, Ford President of the Americas, who admitted that change may be forthcoming.

The atypical alphanumeric nomenclature used by premium brands has worked well for others, but not so for Lincoln. To distinguish itself from the luxury pack, Hinrichs said that the marque could leverage its heritage. And Continental is as significant as any model name in Lincoln’s repertoire.

Like other premium brands, Lincoln’s current naming convention was designed to help people focus on the brand, not separate model names. It is a practice that has served Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz well, and has also been adopted by Acura, Infiniti, Cadillac, Mazda and a few others. Cadillac and Infiniti, by the way, have or are making the transition twice.

Lincoln Heritage and the Chinese Consumer

A rich heritage of trusted names could enable Lincoln to reach customers that its currently named products are not doing. Certainly, the Navigator name has not hurt Lincoln. Through March 2015, Navigator sales are up 84.2 percent. Other than the MKC, which didn’t appear until later in the year, sales for the four other Lincoln products are way down. Lincoln sales are off by 0.6 percent for the first three months of 2015.

Another factor in name changing may have something to do with a rising Lincoln demographic — the Chinese consumer. The Lincoln brand is new to the world’s largest automotive market, but its heritage is not. Certainly, that’s an advantage that few brands can boast and what Lincoln might leverage.

Back to the Future

Hinrichs’ pronouncement should not be taken as an off the cuff remark. Judging by the online chatter, including comments to the Automotive News article, there is a groundswell of support for Lincoln to return to its roots. If it does, then Continental may some day be joined by Town Car and Mark X, model names with marketability and esteem.

See AlsoBlack Label: 2017 Lincoln Continental

Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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