Lincoln to Bring Back Vaunted Continental Nameplate

In an effort to recapture the former glory of its Lincoln division, Ford plans to replace its MKS and resurrect the Continental name for its new flagship, full-size sedan as early as 2017.

Although the luxury segment accounts for somewhere between 10 percent and 13 percent of the U.S. market, and about six percent of the Chinese market, it is a major revenue driver for automakers, and Ford CEO Mark Fields says, “We don’t want to be a feeder brand for other luxury brands.”

Lincoln’s director of product development Scott Tobin said that designing the new flagship model was not an easy task.   “To be honest, we struggled with the specialness,” said Tobin. “We had a couple themes. None were hitting the mark. They were not going to pass the Fields ‘Wow’ test.”  Fields agrees and says, “The first couple of design iterations, we weren’t getting that mojo.”

The decision to give the new flagship model the Continental name provided designers with the direction they needed to achieve Field’s vision of a true luxury model.

The launch of the new Continental will cap off what is being called phase one of a strategy designed to reposition Lincoln. By 2020 the automaker plans to revamp its current lineup, and add two new nameplates based on a new platform which the automaker is referring to internally as D6.  The new platform will reportedly allow Lincoln to make a larger rear wheel drive sedan to compete with luxury nameplates including the BMW 7-Series and Audi A8, as well as a new crossover model to replace the MKT.

The new platform will not be available for at least a few years.  In the meantime, the new Continental will be built on an elongated version of the platform that currently underpins numerous other models, including the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKZ.  Use of this platform will allow Lincoln to offer front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions of the Continental.

Lincoln plans to invest $2.5 billion on new product development and retooling over the next four years.  Advertising and marketing for new product launches will drive the total investment even higher.  Ultimately, Ford hopes to sell 300,000 Lincolns worldwide by 2020.  Last year, Lincoln sold fewer than 82,000 units in the U.S. In 1998 Lincoln was the best-selling premium brand in the U.S. with annual sales of more than 187,000 vehicles.

Although Lincoln is a relative newcomer to the Chinese market, with just 11 dealerships, the company’s director of global marketing Matt VanDyke says sales in that country have exceeded forecasts by 10 percent.  Lincoln plans to open an additional 15 dealerships in China this year alone.  Fields expects the new Continental to sell well in China where it already enjoys a high degree of name recognition.

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