2004 Detroit Auto Show Coverage (1/4/2004)
Ford's Lincoln division is going full throttle to shake the "airport and funeral car" image that's hurt its growth against a revitalized Cadillac and rapidly expanding luxury imports with a luxury pickup truck and a new sport-utility wagon it will definitely produce and a two-seater sports car it hopes to build if auto show visitors and the media like the idea.
Lincoln has already tried a pickup once, the disastrous Blackwood launched in 2001 and killed last year after discounts of more than $10,000 were needed to make up for quality glitches and customer disinterest. Lincoln-Mercury chief Daryl Hazel says the Blackwood failed because it was too pricey at $52,000 and not rugged or functional enough as a pickup. It also suffered quality and production problems, and had to be largely hand-built.
The Lincoln Mark LT pickup, which will go on sale in early 2005, is built off the new F-Series truck and designed to look related to Lincoln's successful Navigator SUV. "We absolutely believe there is market appeal for a truck with luxury features and feel, but with uncompromised truck capability," says Hazel. Pickup sales have climbed from 1.1 million to 2.3 million annual sales in a decade. And Hazel says trucks priced above $30,000 with premium features and comfort amenities is the fastest growing segment. The LT has four doors, a full back seat, and a 5.5-foot box. Loaded with leather, chrome, wood, electronics and packing a 5.4 liter, Triton V-8 engine under the hood that produces 300 horsepower, and with an 8900-pound towing capacity, Ford is hoping to get close to $50,000 when fully optioned, though pricing won't be announced for another year.
Aviator and Mark X
Rumors a few months ago that Lincoln is killing off the Aviator SUV launched in 2002 were premature. The Aviator, built off the Ford Explorer truck chassis, is giving way by 2006 to an Aviator built off the Ford Futura car platform that is also the underpinnings of the Mazda6. The more car-like ride is meant to better compete with Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX330, and Infiniti FX45, and to distinguish it from the Explorer-based Mercury Mountaineer sold in the same dealerships as the Aviator. The show-car has a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. After a slow start and a starting price tag that was above $40,000, Aviator sales have been climbing as discounts have been troweled on to the vehicle. Ford insiders say it hasn't been profitable because of huge costs built into the vehicle by former Premium Automotive Group chief Wolfgang Reitzle.
Lincoln hasn't sold a sports car since it ceased production on the Mark VIII in 1998, but its considering a retro-inspired convertible showing this week as the Mark X concept. This Mark has a retractable glass-roofed hardtop, a feature not likely to make it into a production car, but you never know. "Unlike the other cars we are showing, we still don't know about building the Mark X, but we want to see what reaction we get," says Ford design chief J Mays. The car is built off the same platform as the Ford Thunderbird and Jaguar S-Type, and has a 3.9-liter V-8 aluminum engine that generates 280 horsepower. The interior of the show car was done in lime green and includes Corian (think kitchen counters) accents to go along with chrome and polished aluminum. Such a car would undoubtedly sell in small volumes, like Cadillac's new $70,000 XLR, which expects to sell about 5000 per year. A new Mark would help to balance the return of the Continental sedan. Lincoln discontinued the Continental last year, but is expected to announce the return of the next generation airport car this spring, perhaps at the New York auto show.