for Lincoln to stand and deliver.
Ford sold off
a stable of European luxury nameplates ó Aston Martin and Jaguar,
Land Rover and Volvo ó to clear the field for its revamped luxury
brand, which it rechristened Lincoln Motor Co. in December.
eye-catching and advanced 2013 Lincoln MKZ ó meant to spearhead
the brandís rebirth ó had a painfully slow production launch
last fall with some parts arriving late from suppliers and also
delays related to producing the MKZ and the Fusion on the same line
at Fordís Hermosillo, Mexico, plant.
many-months delay in delivering vehicles frustrated buyers and left
thousands of unfinished MKZs, waiting for parts and final
inspections, parked at factories in Mexico and Michigan. The snafus
also cost Ford momentum it had built for the relaunch from splashy
and expensive Super Bowl ads.
flagship car is finally reaching dealers this month in meaningful
numbers. About 10,000 are now in stock at showrooms around the
production kinks out of the way, Ford should know in the next six
weeks whether the early missteps have permanently damaged the new
brand and whether its bold attempt to reinvent Lincoln as a global
luxury player is the start of something big or a very expensive and
going to be very interesting," said Jim Farley, Lincoln boss
and Ford global chief of marketing, sales and service. "People
like the car, and itís bringing in new customers."
investing hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade Lincolnís
model line. Dealers around the country are spending millions more to
compete with the opulent facilities where Lexus and Mercedes-Benz
pamper their customers. The MKZ must start the brand on a journey
upscale to justify those expenses and Lincolnís very existence.
In addition to
striking looks, the MKZ features a hybrid model that scored an
attention-grabbing 45 mpg EPA rating, which could be a strong
selling point for the model going forward.
promise and potential. The question is whether Lincoln can
execute" with its vehicles, marketing and a buying experience
that rivals other luxury brands, said analyst Rebecca Lindland of
Rebel Three Media.
counting on Lincoln to attract affluent customers, generate deluxe
profit margins and pioneer new technologies. The MKZís stumbling
launch diverted attention from the sleek sedan to Fordís ability
to compete with global luxury leaders.
better to under-promise and over-deliver," said a Lincoln
dealership executive who did not want to be identified for fear of
irritating Ford officials. "Thatís the No. 1 lesson of the
MKZ. You should have thousands of cars at the dealerships before you
supply of MKZs canít come soon enough for buyers whoíve been
waiting for months.
the car now that Iíve received it, but I hated the wait,"
said Tanner Smith, a 49-year-old information security director from
Phoenix. Smith ordered his MKZ Oct. 22. It arrived about four and a
half months later, on March 11.
Smith says the
worst part of the wait was a lack of information from Lincoln about
why his car had been delayed and when it would be delivered.
of the biggest lessons Farley says Ford has taken away from the
faulty re-launch so far. Lincoln says it now aims to get dealers and
customers more accurate information on future vehicles, he said.
dealer council is asking us to improve. They say, ĎJust tell us
whatís going on.í We have learned a lot about how to prepare for
the second new product" from Lincolnís relaunch, a small
crossover expected to arrive in 2014, Farley said.
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ordered her MKZ hybrid in late August. Star Lincoln in Southfield,
Mich., delivered it to the recently retired judge about six months
later on March 1. But the dealership handled the delay well, Moiseev
said, and sheís ecstatic with her new MKZ hybrid.
forwarded me emails saying that cars were being delayed for
inspections to make sure everything was right," she said.
"I know that was true, because when my car arrived, it had ĎOKí
written on the back window. I got the first or second MKZ hybrid in
Michigan. I ordered it sight unseen. I went to the (Detroit) auto
show in January so I could see what my car looked like. It was worth
also sent Mosieev a gift card for dinner. The dealership delivered
about 26 cars in March and 22 in the first half of April. It has
about 50 in stock now, in time for spring sales.
in constant contact and gave our customers the best information we
could," said Ryan McInerney, a Star salesperson.
factors led to the production delays, according to people familiar
with the process. The assembly plant in Hermosillo was running flat
out with three shifts building Ford Fusions when the MKZ went into
production last fall.
process would have been to slow down or stop the line to fix parts
and fit issues on the MKZ. But that would have cut into the supply
of the Fusion, which was selling faster and more profitably than
Ford had foreseen.
So getting the
MKZ right took much longer than expected, Ford says.
also reduced the number of new MKZs it was building to fix what are
referred to as "fit and finish" issues on the assembly
line, such as pieces of trim that donít line up or a glove box
door that doesnít hang evenly or close tightly enough.
incredibly challenging to try to fix a production issue on a line
thatís running full speed," said Mike Wall, analyst with IHS
eventually had parking lots full of MKZs waiting for parts to arrive
and final inspections. Ford wonít say which specific parts were
responsible. Ford had also committed to inspecting every single MKZ
built ó which added to production time ó rather than
spot-checking cars like it usually does with other models.
the only plant where the MKZ and Fusion are currently produced. The
Flat Rock, Mich., plant, however, will add a second shift in late
summer to also build Fusions, a much higher volume model for Ford
than the Lincoln.
the MKZ spiked in response to big-budget advertising when Ford
renamed Lincoln in December and also during the Super Bowl in early
stream of potential customers already had been coming to Southfield,
Mich.-based Star Lincoln since October to look for the car. But the
dealership didnít get its first two 2013 MKZs until Feb. 1, the
Friday before the Super Bowl.
decided not to sell them, instead setting them aside just for test
want to see a new car, feel and touch a car," said Douglas
Leonhard, Star general manager. "The delay probably cost us
some sales, but at least we had a couple of cars when the Super Bowl
than some dealerships could say. Some of them didnít get their
first demo vehicle until well after the Super Bowl, months behind
needed to raise their hand and say, ĎWeíre not gonna have any
cars when the commercials air,í " said Lindland of Rebel
Three Media. "Instead, the Super Bowl ads were a complete waste
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)
Sabatini, general sales manager of Hines Park Lincoln in Plymouth,
Mich., said MKZs are now moving quickly off the lot.
getting lots of conquest sales," when buyers trade another
automakerís vehicle, she said. The dealership has taken trade-ins
ranging from Lexus to Honda, Hyundai, Kia and even a classic 1971
Lincoln Continental Mark III, she said.
MKZ draws a different client. You have to have the product, but you
also have to provide the experience and presentation theyíre used
to getting from other brands," she said.
Lincoln has plenty of cars, it needs to recapture some shoppersí
attention, several experts who have been studying the relaunch say.
That could add tens of millions of dollars to the advertising costs
Lincolnís already racked up.
Key to that
would be a much heavier promotion of the MKZ hybrid, said Gordon
Wangers, a marketing consultant who advises auto dealers.
hybridís a real winner. It says a lot about technology and whatís
new about Lincoln. They need to demonstrate the hybrid everywhere
and all the time. That needs to be the statement the brand makes to
customers and the media."
STORY CAN END HERE)
nearly impossible to find an MKZ hybrid at a metro Detroit
dealership. The few that arrive are sold before they hit the ground.
Ford clearly underestimated demand for the model.
"I wish I
had 50 hybrids," said Matt Garchow, new car manager at Varsity
Lincoln in Novi, Mich. "Every one that comes in is pre-sold. I
canít keep them in stock."
been a lot higher than Ford expected, said Sabatini of Hines Park
Lincoln in Plymouth. "Youíre not going to see many of them
sitting on the lot."
Ford has been shipping most of the hybrids it builds to California,
where itís particularly popular in a market that has been
historically difficult for Lincoln over several decades.
hybrid is selling in just eight days on the dealerís lot,"
Farley said. "Los Angeles is the third-biggest market for the
MKZ" after the traditional Lincoln strongholds of Detroit and
New York. "The hybridís a big part of the reason."
advises Lincoln change its new vehicle names and return to some
tried and true nameplates that have been popular for decades.
have an arsenal of meaningful, memorable names like Zephyr and
Continental," he said. "Lincoln invested decades and
hundreds of millions of dollars in establishing those names. Using
them is the single most important thing they could do."
of Lincolnís product strategy trouble Eric Noble, president of the
Carlab, a product-development consultant. He said Lincoln needs to
offer more and a greater variety of models than its current lineup
of two sedans, two crossovers and a single SUV.
not a re-launch just because you call it one," he said.
"The strategy needs to be associated with enough new products
to justify the name, and this one hasnít been."
Noble says the
"One Ford" mantra championed by Ford CEO Alan Mulally of
sharing platforms and components around the world is fine for the
Ford brand, but not for Lincoln.
developed an all-new platform when GM rebooted its luxury brand more
than a decade ago. While some Cadillacs share their platforms with
other brands, the heart of its lineup ó the CTS and ATS ó were
engineered from the ground up specifically to take on BMW and
brands canít rehash platforms and components from a mainstream
brand. Ford has to make the painful and expensive decision to
develop separate luxury platforms if Lincoln is going to
survive," Noble said.
resume includes running Toyotaís Lexus luxury brand before joining
Ford, disagrees. He cites Lexus and Audi as flourishing luxury
brands that share some platforms with their mainstream brands.
Unlike Lincoln, however, they both have some platforms and engines
developed specifically for luxury models.
Lincoln wonít quit ítil it gets things right.
commitment to Lincoln is complete," he said. "Weíre
going to be patient and deliver the right vehicles to our
deliveries start in earnest now.