Ford chose the New York auto show Monday to unveil its redesigned Lincoln MKZ, a first step to reinventing Lincoln as a competitive luxury brand. The 2013 MKZ, a bold midsize sedan, is the first of seven new or refreshed models coming to market by 2014. Sculpted by a team led by former Cadillac designer Max Wolff, MKZ incorporates one of the industry's largest retractable glass roofs and is meant to attract a younger buyer.
Lincoln was the best-selling U.S. luxury brand as recently as 1999. Now it is eighth, with a stodgy reputation defined more by the bulky Town Car airport limousine than anything hip. Ford is looking to change that.
The new look of luxury from Cadillac, Lincoln
NEW YORK -- Lincoln unveiled its all-new 2013 MKZ midsize sedan Monday night, taking the most important step yet in the beleaguered luxury brand's reinvention.
"The new Lincoln MKZ represents the future of Lincoln in both style and substance," Jim Farley, Ford's top global marketing executive, said in a statement. "It is proof of our commitment to deliver a new breed of Lincolns for a new generation of Lincoln clients."
To build buzz, Lincoln chose to show the car in the curvaceous glass headquarters of InterActive in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Lincoln hopes the building, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, serves as a metaphor for its transformation.
Lincoln has been laying the foundation for this makeover for nearly two years. The MKZ is the first of seven all-new or refreshed models coming to market by 2014.
Sculpted by a team led by former Cadillac designer Max Wolff, the MKZ incorporates one of the industry's largest retractable glass roofs.
Drivers will be able to choose from three powertrains:
-- A 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that delivers 20% better fuel economy compared with the 2012 MKZ.
-- A 3.7-liter V6 engine that produces 37 more horsepower than the V6 it replaces.
-- A 2.0-liter four-cylinder hybrid powertrain that is expected to enable the 2013 MKZ Hybrid to remain North America's most fuel-efficient premium sedan. The 2012 MKZ Hybrid is rated at 41 m.p.g. in the city and 36 m.p.g. in highway driving.
The 2013 MKZ and MKZ Hybrid must take sales from Cadillac, Audi and other luxury brands, and keep current Ford owners in the family when they want a more premium vehicle.
But restoring Lincoln to a leadership position among luxury brands in the U.S. could take a decade or longer.
Lincoln must overcome an image that its cars are for older buyers, and that its cars and crossovers are little more than dressed-up Ford models.
"Lincoln's resurgence isn't going to be ... a two- or three-year project," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto test center. "It's going to take five to 10 years of continually good products."
Lincoln was the best-selling U.S. luxury brand as recently as 1999, the year Ford created the Premier Automotive Group, after an acquisition binge that left Lincoln to languish in the shadow of Jaguar, Volvo, Aston Martin and Land Rover, all since sold off in Ford's turnaround. Now Lincoln is eighth, having sold only 85,643 vehicles last year, compared with 117,561 for Audi, 152,389 for Cadillac and 198,552 for Lexus.
"They have a similar problem to what Buick has," said Edmunds.com analyst Michelle Krebs. "Even if they can come out with great product, there is the image that they are for older people."
Lincoln has shrunk its dealer network from about 500 to 350 stores and focused on the 130 largest metro markets that account for 90% of luxury vehicle sales.
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