2017 Lincoln MKZ 02 HR

Is Lincoln The Watered Down Cadillac?

Lincoln is, by this point in its life, a very strange company. At one time, they were the ride of choice for Presidents and rockstars and mobsters. The Kennedys, Pete Townsend, and the Corleones all had a thing for Lincolns. They were credibly going toe-to-toe with Cadillac for the pinnacle of huge American luxury cars that said to the world, “I have made it! Look who I am! I drive a Lincoln!”

That is a vibe even Cadillac struggles to maintain in the minds of customers younger than 74, but what does Lincoln hope to hang on to?

Loyal Faults

Loyalty. In a word, loyalty. At least if the latest missive from Lincoln is to be taken seriously. And honestly, I have no reason at all to doubt this. It’s not that Lincolns are screwed together so poorly that lack of quality is a problem. They are, without a doubt, very well assembled using very high quality materials. The problem here is with touting, “Lincoln has the luxury segment’s highest loyalty rate among new luxury-vehicle buyers in the first quarter of 2017, according to IHS Markit Loyalty data.” It’s not so much a problem with the information, but how loudly Ford’s luxury brand is trumpeting fairly equivocal facts.

It’s as if Lincoln were that kid in high school saying, “did you know that I am the second relief quarterback on the JV football team? Lots of potential there. And also, Mr. Johnson, the band director, said that I might make third chair trumpet this year. So what-a-ya say? Go to the prom with me?” It’s not as if those things are false; it’s the desperation at their foundation that makes it a worrying pitch for a prom date, but especially for a luxury car.

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Lincoln sales are up 6 percent this year, outpacing a luxury segment that is up 2 percent, according to Lincoln and industry reported sales data. However, is that enough to sustain the brand? Photo: Lincoln Motor Company.

Packed Field

And look at the statement they are hanging all this on: “Lincoln has the luxury segment’s highest loyalty rate among new luxury-vehicle buyers in the first quarter of 2017, according to IHS Markit Loyalty data.” That’s three qualifiers in a rather tepid statement. In so many words, Lincoln is saying “hey, people who have never bought an expensive car before sure like our product, if they bought in the first three months of this year at any rate.”

And this is really sad. Not just because Lincolns are put together well and use high quality materials like I mentioned above: No, it’s sad because Lincoln is “the alternative Cadillac.” Lincoln is literally the only domestic alternative to Caddy. If you are a relatively patriotic car buyer, and you’ve just hit the big time, what are your choices? Two: Cadillac or Lincoln. There was a time when there were dozens of top American luxury cars to choose from. Not just Cadillac, but Duesenberg, and Cord and Auburn and Pierce Arrow and Packard and Lincoln.

Back when Cadillac’s company motto was “The Standard of The World” they weren’t kidding, and they were right. People from all over the world looked up to, admired and desired Cadillacs. Now? Well, Cadillac has been saying for decades, “Hey! Hey, over here! Pay attention to us! Why buy German? Get a Caddy!”

Even Buick is attempting a complete turnaround.

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2017 Lincoln Continental. Photo: Lincoln Motor Company.

Second Best

Whither Lincoln? They can’t even say that. The best they can come up with is, “we’re not Cadillac, but we’re still American! Oh, and new buyers of our cars love us.” If that sort of attitude doesn’t make the higher-ups at FoMoCo shudder and have visions of what happened to Mercury dancing in their heads, I don’t know what will.

And I’m not here to pillory Lincoln. I actually like them. I always have. They’re big and square and have a presence close to a Brink’s truck. Why would I, if I were in the market for something huge and American and over-engined and luxury stuffed, not consider a Lincoln? Because Lincoln is a B- answer in comparison to what Cadillac produces. Being nearly as good is never, ever a way to sell more of your stuff, let alone a sound business strategy.

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2017 Lincoln Continental interior layout. Photo: Lincoln Motor Company.

New Strategies

If Lincoln wants to survive, and I really hope they do, they need to get off the dime now. They need to start producing cars that make Caddys look like half-thought out parts-bin specials. Lincoln needs to start dropping in blown Shelby Mustang plants into their capacious engine bays. Have the guys that designed the Ford GT’s suspension have a go at the Lincoln’s chassis. They already have the comfort and convenience stuff down, so go for the performance angle. Make it work, and then beat Cadillac over the head with it.

Shoot, why not go all the way?

Why not resurrect Mercury as Lincoln’s performance division, the way Mercedes-Benz has AMG and Audi has their S models? You already have the name right there. He’s even the Roman god associated with speed and financial gain. Use it. Drop the big mills into the Continentals, only calmed and quieted for the stock broker crowd, but put the same engine into the “Mercury” division aimed at the patriotic middle-aging Vin Diesels of America. Pull out sound deadening, make things stiffer, and get marketing on board. Remake the hot rod Lincoln and find some down-right, true-blue American rockstar to be your spokesperson. Shoot, Detroit is crawling with American rock stars. Use one of them.

What’s Iggy Pop doing these days? He’d be perfect. He’s even from Detroit.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.