Lincoln vehicles should be popular in China and all Lincoln products have been developed with that huge potential market in mind, said Jim Farley, head of the Lincoln brand as well as the Ford leader for global sales and marketing.
"We can launch the brand from scratch," Farley said, an opportunity filled with both promise and challenges.
China's consumers love American culture, but as a new challenger brand, Lincoln and its dealers must also work to educate them about the brand's rich heritage, Farley said in interviews following Monday's unveiling of the Lincoln MKC compact crossover at the North American International Auto Show. The MKC will go on sale in the U.S. next year.
Vehicles for China need large and well-appointed back seats. Farley wouldn't say if the cars will be stretched to provide more room in back.
But the real dilemma is the front end. In China, the tastes are very different.
"We've done our homework to understand the cultural reasons for the difference," Farley said.
Chinese customers like large, vertical headlights, while the West, and Ford in particular with its new design, is going towards smaller, sleeker, horizontal headlights. Cars in China also have big, bold grilles with lots of chrome.
In the U.S., Farley thinks the new MKC compact crossover is a strong bet because it is such a vibrant new segment without dominant players. Had Lincoln chose to do a small sedan instead, he does not think there would be as much growth potential.
And small luxury crossovers are high image vehicles, Farley said. "It's a moment where (customers) can switch brands because it's new," Farley said, noting midsize crossovers have gotten larger, leaving more room for vehicles positioned below them.
The revival of the Lincoln brand is taking a major step with the unveiling of the MKC crossover, the smallest vehicle to ever carry the Lincoln name, but a large piece of Ford's strategy to return its remaining luxury brand to prominence.
The task will take years and cost billions, and it runs the risk of proving as ineffective as previous attempts.
But the top of the Glass House is undeterred.
Before joining Ford Motor Co. in 2006, CEO Alan Mulally thought of Lincoln as an storied American brand. "I had a wonderful impression of Lincoln," Mulally told the Detroit Free Press last week in an exclusive interview. "When I got to Ford, I wondered where Lincoln was."
Named for America's beloved 16th president, Lincoln has slipped from the nation's leading luxury brand in 1990, with sales of 231,660, to near-extinction. Lincoln ended 2012 with sales of 82,150, a 4 percent drop when luxury car sales industrywide rose nearly 12 percent.
Today, Lincoln's U.S. sales rank last of eight luxury brands. Restoring Lincoln was quickly added to Mulally's to-do list early in his tenure. But reviving Lincoln kept getting pushed farther down the list by more urgent matters, such as borrowing nearly $24 billion to ensure the company's survival during the financial crisis.
"When I arrived in 2006, the first profit forecast I saw was a $17 billion loss, and we achieved it," Mulally said.
He decided quickly that Ford, which in the late 1990s went on a luxury-carmaker buying spree, could not continue to be a house of many brands. With Ford and Lincoln accounting for 85 percent of business, the decision was to invest in them and divest the rest, including Jaguar, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Volvo.
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