By Andrew Singer
If one car company is trying to shrug off old impressions, it’s Lincoln.
Having been saddled with an “old man’s brand” association for decades, Ford’s luxury line has recently been making a conscious effort to get hip in a hurry.
With the promise of seven new or completely refreshed models by 2015, a unique Lincoln-only training program, brand revitalization on a dealership level and the recent launch of its transformational model, Lincoln is clearly trying to change hats.
“It will be our experience we give to our customer, our commitment to our customer and the product that will earn us the right to be a true luxury brand,” said David Sanci, president and dealer principal of Oak-Land Ford-Lincoln in Oakville, Ont.
Product is King
With a premium marketplace chiefly inhabited by attractive German brands, changing its starting line is no small task.
Lincoln’s customer base is 10 years older than the premium segment average. Given the age issue, there is desire to appeal to a more mainstream, premium customer, explained Jamie Rae, product manager for Lincoln Canada.
With the launch of the 2013 MKZ, Lincoln hopes to appeal to an even wider market. Revealed as a production model in April 2012 at the New York International Auto Show, the new MKZ is a stepping-stone for future Lincolns.
“It’s the first in a transformational array of products for Lincoln,” said Rae. “That vehicle will set the bar for Lincoln in advancing the brand.”
Lincoln has so far shown three out of the seven vehicles it plans to unveil by 2015. While two of those featured minor technology and exterior enhancements (2013 MKS, 2013 MKT), the brand’s true revitalization is focused on the new MKZ and the other four vehicles that have yet to materialize.
While Lincoln is still very eager to get the MKZ in showrooms later this year, it seems equally excited about the other products not yet revealed to the public.
Customer Service Upgrades
To go along with its new vehicles, Lincoln also hopes to bring buyers into its showrooms by updating its training programs.
While Lincoln staff in the U.S. will be trained in a new Lincoln Academy program with the help of international concierge association Les Clefs D’ors, Lincoln Canada has developed a program of its own.
Lincoln-specific training was launched for Canadian staff this year coinciding with the aggressive market revival initiative.
“What we have in Canada is very stringent Lincoln training,” said Sanci. “It’s product. It’s experience. It’s presentation, It’s brand,” he said.
While staff training is nothing new, Sanci noted it is the first time the two brands (Ford and Lincoln) will have unique and separate training programs.
How will this aggressive brand revival affect Ford-Lincoln dealerships?
Ford now has a voluntary dealership renovation program that includes specific standards for displaying Lincoln that helps identify it as a stand-alone brand.
While the cusp of the renovations focus on bringing dealerships to the next level visually, it also means separate showrooms and facilities for Lincoln at newly renovated dealerships.
“The facility is the first step forward. It shows that the belief is there to the customer. Equally as important, it shows the faith and the trust is in the brand to our staff,” he said.
And while Ford is focusing on the visual schism of the two brands, this does not yet mean separate dealerships for Lincoln as in the U.S.
“We’re very happy with the state of the dealer network in Canada,” said Rae. “We are focused on making sure the dealerships we have in Canada are equipped and ready for the customers that will come with this aggressive new product cycle.”