“How Nice – to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five
Lincoln and Mercury reminded me of two aging silent screen stars living together in squalor, each in a futile attempt to care for the other. Lincoln, in a near vegetative state since 1990, survived on memories, while Mercury survived solely on the charity of others. Together they lived a life of worsening health and dwindling finances, until Mercury finally passed quietly in 2011. Now, the dilapidated house they once lived in is about to collapse, despite the occasional lick of paint.
Today, the Lincoln that remains is but a memory of better times. Recent attempts at resuscitation have all failed, and the brand now claims their lowest production figures since 1946. To put that in perspective, production of the MKT, Navigator and MKS models for the past six months equals about three minutes of Toyota Camry production. The Lincoln of today is a nothing more than a Ford Fusion customizer and a small boutique carmaker.
Recently, Ford announced another revival of the brand, as well as a change in management. The “new” Lincoln Motor Company is trumpeted through wispy, sometimes confusing ads showing great Lincolns of the past. The ads pulsate with cool jazz beats and have Gatsby-like sayings about how to build luxury cars. However, every one ends in the same disappointing way; a beauty shot of the amorphous and slightly androgynous MKZ.
Lincoln offers six models at present, from the newest SUV Crossover, the MKC to the hulking dinosaur, Navigator. Only the MKC is relevant in today’s world, a luxury crossover with styling reminiscent of the new Bentley SUV. For the Navigator, the days of the large SUV have passed and any effort to refresh the fossil will prove futile. The MKT was intended to replace the Town Car, but looked more like a panel van than a luxury sedan. Without a proper replacement, the MKT flopped, and Lincoln lost its professional vehicle market.
The remaining cars, the MKS and MKX are just failures in their class. Ugly, boring and lacking any spirit, they are blanks shot in desperation at a well armed attacker. Though the MKZ shows promise in an attempt to hold down the tidal wave of doom that lurks in Lincoln’s future, the entire lineup is depressing, and the new Mr. Pringles grille isn’t helping the situation. The lineup is so bad that the smell of death overpowers the smell of the Bridge of Weir leather. Ironically, once a large producer of funeral hearses, Lincoln has no vehicle worthy of carrying its own corpse to the grave.
Is there hope? Ford has committed a billion dollars to revitalize the brand. They have changed management, hired a new Chief Stylist from Jaguar and Aston Martin, and officially convinced themselves that the Pringles mustache looks like eagles wings. There is always hope, and Lincoln is not a modern day Nash, Packard or even Mercury. All Lincoln needs to survive is a clear understanding of four simple truths.
Heritage – First, Lincoln has only three cars in their entire history that should be called on for inspiration. They are the Mark II, the Mark III and the 1961 Continental. Everything else was a mistake, unworthy, or just another hunk of metal in a vast wasteland. Designers need to use the styling cues from these three cars to build the future. The Mark II has an amazing roofline, stunning curves, a stylish and dignified interior and that wonderful spare tire hump that could inspire. The Continental is an icon, from the crisp slab side design, the immortal suicide doors, the bright full face grille to the way the trunk curves in above the bumper, it is the epitome of elegance. The Mark III, once the ultimate personal luxury car of the 1970’s has its Rolls-Royce styled grille, the sweeping lines of the wheel wells, the low-cut formal roofline, and that amazing interior for inspiration. These are the cars that can recreate the magic of Lincoln. They are icons of a golden age.
Focus – Lincoln needs to limit production to three models: one luxury sedan, one sports-luxury coupe and one luxury Crossover. Everything else in the current lineup should be discontinued. Marketing needs to follow the theme of elegance and style, and stop focusing on Jimmy Fallon, Twitter and Facebook. That one shot of the young woman peering around the side of the deep blue Continental C pillar is a perfect example of the look needed. Styles, materials, colors and even model names need to reflect an air of luxury and sophistication. Naming a car in pig-Latin and thinking that there will somehow be a attachment to a random set of letters is just ignorant. The cars need to be named Continental and Town Car, they are that iconic. People buy cars to be seen in, and cars they fall in love with. Limiting the number of models will focus the company on good design, and convince the public that Lincoln “means business.” It works for Jaguar and Land Rover.
Buzz – Lincoln needs a game changer, a head turner that will become the 21st Century Jaguar XKE. They do not need to create fashion, they need to create art. Beauty sells cars more than the latest stereo system, and beauty is sorely lacking these days. Lincoln needs to design a car that is so stunning, people can’t help but stare at it. The days of the fat, gussied up Ford Fusion need to end. How difficult is this task? Jaguar did it time and again; Ferrari and Lamborghini do it with every model, and a simple scan of the internet will tell you that there are thousands of hopeful car designers creating masterpieces every day.
Lincoln needs a luxury sports coupe on the lines of the Bentley Continental, but more remarkable. They need a car that is something between a Mercedes AMG Grand Turismo and a Maserati Alfieri. Lincoln also needs a return of the luxury sedan, a true road yacht and not some origami sports sedan like Cadillac. Lincolns of yesterday were driven by the Don Drapers of the world, and right now there is nothing truly luxurious about anything for sale under 150,000 dollars. Imagine how a redesigned Town Car would look against a sea of BMW’s and Audi’s at the local golf course. People want to replace their cheaply built Escalades with a true luxury car, and will always pay extra for elegance and style.
Faith – Lincoln needs to believe. Audi, Porsche, and Cadillac have all done it before. Ford is one of the best and brightest carmakers in the world now, and with its backing, a billion or so in cash, and the ability to cherry pick from the best technicians and designers in the industry; it is more than possible. Lincoln needs to commit, stay with it, and hire the right people. They need to take chances, rock the boat and perform like Steve Job’s Apple. Lincoln needs to create art, the customers will take care of the rest.
Article Courtesy of Chris Raymond
Photos Courtesy of autoexpress.co.uk, classycars.org, allcarindex.com, roadandtrack.com, autoguide.com, lincolnmodels.com, diseno-art.com, dieselstation.com, redesign.com, barrett-jackson.com