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CAN THE LINCOLN FRANCHISE SURVIVE ?

Jim Ziegler Proposes 10 Ways To Save Lincoln

Never has there been a more dedicated band of starry-eyed optimists than the surviving Lincoln dealers.

These brave souls have jumped through every hoop and swallowed every bitter pill the manufacturer served with hardly a whimper. They put up the money and built the upgraded facilities, separated their showrooms, and upped their game in anticipation of the rivers of milk and honey in the Promised Land.

Of course reality always trumps fantasy. Truth is, it just ain’t happening.

I don’t think it’s ever going to happen if Lincoln stays on the current course. Please remember, I love Ford. I regard Alan Mulally, Mark Fields and Jim Farley as personal friends. This is not mean-spirited Jim Ziegler talking here.

I speak to these dealers when they come back from automaker meetings worked up in a frenzy of excitement. Talk to them a few weeks later, and they’re back to the grind of moving these cars in a market where they are the underdog.

Last year it was the MKZ midsize. This was billed as the future of the brand. Then, after a dismally inept launch, Lincoln is refocused on the upcoming launch of the MKC cross/utility vehicle.

Excuse me, this is Jim Ziegler talking from the heart. I have a special place in my heart for Lincoln. I drove them in the glory days. I owned nine Town Cars and several Mark VII’s back-to-back. Watching the brand go downhill has hurt me, as I now drive Cadillacs and Buicks. Sad to say, their quality is scoring higher and the models are more appealing.

There’s still time to save Lincoln and have it retake its rightful share of the luxury market. But the clock is ticking and the brand is totally on the wrong path. I don’t always claim to be the great and powerful wizard, but; here are some of the things I would do immediately.

Get rid of that God-awful ugly-ass grille you’re so proud of. I have talked to numerous consumers and it’s hard to find anyone who believes it’s attractive, classy or stylish.

Put a full-court press on modernizing and upgrading the Navigator. What genius-thinking has allowed your flagship full-sized luxury SUV to become a stale, old- technology, outdated, jazzed-up Expedition with a navigation panel the size of a postage stamp?

Let’s see, Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator. Let me think for second here? Perception is reality. Ford threw away the full-sized SUV market all at once.

MKZ, MKS, MKZ, MKT now MKC. This is absolutely stoo-pid thinking. Did somebody on the marketing team have a lobotomy? Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the foggiest idea what those models are.

I used to always say that American vehicles should have names. American luxury has personality and swagger. Put exciting and innovative names on Lincoln models, and stop changing them all of the time.

Get rid of the MKT cross/utility vehicle. It is an abomination, a Frankenstein of a CUV. (And, while you’re at it, dump the Ford Flex too). And while I’m on a rant, who the hell thought it would be okay to put the “Town Car” name on an MKT?

While we’re on the subject, explain again exactly why the real Town Car was discontinued?

Yes, it was long of tooth and getting stale, but who allowed that to happen? It was extremely profitable at the time of its execution and you certainly threw away the livery business that you once owned. There is a market for full-sized luxury and you axed your entrant before you had anything legitimate to replace it with.

You are so eaten up with chasing Generation Y that you totally threw away your bread and butter, the Baby Boomers. I’m talking about 77 million consumers who have more than 75% of America’s wealth and buy 60% of the new cars.

We’re talking about sane and stable people here who used to always buy your products. Now, you threw them to the four winds because you were concentrating on Generation Y’ers living in Mom’s basement. Build cars aimed at people who are qualified to buy, who can and will buy now.

Call me crazy. Everyone else seems to. But, I would halo a Lincoln semi-performance pony car squarely aimed at the Generation X professional that now buys BMW. It wouldn’t be a Mustang, but a Lincoln with its own persona.

Even Acura is bringing back the NSX. I would design a $60,000 Lincoln sports car that would have the entire world talking. Sorry, the MKZ isn’t what I’m describing here.

Try to think of some other incentive programs other than leasing to attract new customers. Once again, you’re too fixated on trying to be like the Europeans. It’s been a long time since Lincoln has thought outside of the incentive-program box. It’s same old, same old. The MKZ launch was an example of right car, bad execution. Your dealers did not let you down, you blew it.

Simplify the technology. I am applauding your return to sanity on new models with manual controls that consumers can understand and operate and don’t cause distracted driving. My wife is now driving a Cadillac again, but when she drove Mercedes and BMW, she felt she needed an engineering degree to operate those cars’ infotainment systems.

Finally, admit when you’re wrong. I know this is difficult for any executive that works for any automaker.

For 38 years in the industry I’ve watched thousands of factory executives come and go. It’s always the same. The new ones come in the business thinking they know more about retail than the dealers. They try the same old crap that didn’t work before.

It’s an endless cycle. By the time we get you trained as to what really works, here comes the next generation. Another constant: Going to your dealers to bail you out.

I believe Ford has some of the best top executives we’ve seen in decades. But they’re not infallible. My ideas might not all be the best, but at least I’m thinking. And thinking on a different track.

Okay, the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention is in New Orleans next month. Please find me and say hello. I’ll be all over the convention floor. Dealers please go and participate. Take a copy of this article to the Lincoln make meetings. They’ll like that. Tell the factory guys Ziegler sends his love.

Jim Ziegler is president of Ziegler Supersystems as well as a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at zieglerss@aol.com. WardsAuto readers also may comment on this article by logging in or registering below.

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