Even before the 2015 New York Auto Show opened its doors to the march of marauding automotive journalists, it was clear which vehicle was most likely to emerge as the star of the show: the Lincoln Continental.
No question, the Continental is a stunner – a bit derivative in places, perhaps, but there is little that is truly new under the sun, and as far as Lincoln vehicles go, it’s a revelation.
But, if you ask me, the Continental isn’t going to make a whiff of difference to Lincoln’s fortunes. Lincoln is off the radars of most luxury buyers, and even if the production version were to be identical to the show car – and no production version ever is – that won’t be enough to re-float this sinking ship.
Here’s the thing you need to remember about the luxury car market: Product is irrelevant. I’m not saying you can have a successful luxury brand without good cars; I’m simply saying that good cars alone do not a luxury brand make.
Proof of my concept: the Hyundai Genesis. For $56k, you can buy a fully loaded Genesis that will go toe-to-toe with an $85,000 BMW or Mercedes. So why doesn’t the Genesis outsell the Germans? Because no one looks at the Hyundai badge and thinks, yep, that’ll make me a hit with the neighbors, the girls, that guy in the next cubicle . . . whoever.
Meanwhile, I honestly don’t know why BMW and Mercedes even bother with engineering and design budgets. They could make their cars out of compressed squirrel turds and people would still buy them. Why? Because of those Roundels or three-pointed stars on their hoods.
Now, I’m not saying Lincoln is beyond salvation. And I’m not saying it doesn’t need good cars. Truth be told, its current range is actually pretty decent. The new MKC small SUV is a real contender, the Navigator does what it does very well, and the MKZ is good looking and good to drive (though it does need a nicer interior and a lower price).
No, product isn’t Lincoln’s real problem; it’s their image that needs to change. And here’s how I think they ought to go about it.
Stop playing those stupid Matthew McConaughy ads. It’s 2015. Everyone has a smartphone, even people on Social Security. No one is impressed by an ad showing your car has an opening sunroof. (What’s next? Men walking on the Moon?) And Matt needs to go. He was brilliant in A Time To Kill, but he’s as boring as whale feces in a car ad. And no, Lincoln, you do not get “cool points” because he appears to be stoned. People don’t seek out luxury car buying advice from potheads. (Perhaps he and his pal Woody can book a Doritos commercial.)
Move back to California. Lincoln used to be headquartered in Orange County, but they’ve since returned to Detroit, and that was a big mistake. I have nothing against Detroit; it’s a fascinating place, and I’m very happy that it’s undergoing a renaissance. But nearly everyone in Detroit buys a domestic car, and while that’s great for the industry, it’s terrible if you are trying to figure out what luxury car buyers really want. Cars are made in Detroit. Trends are made in California.
Get celebrities into your cars. Find the hot A-listers everyone wants to know about and give them Lincolns. How do you know who to target? Have your social media folks create a point index based on number of Twitter followers, frequency of rehab visits, and volume of tabloid stories exposing them as closeted binge eaters, with bonus points for tantrums caught on video and photos in The Fappening. Rap stars automatically get a Navigator (after all, it worked for the Escalade). Bonus: Anyone photographed soliciting a transgender prostitute in their Lincoln gets free gasoline for a year.
The Continental will only succeed if Lincoln becomes a relevant and desirable brand. Make Lincoln the hot brand of the moment, and it won’t matter how good the Continental is, because it’ll sell like hotcakes — even if it’s made out of compressed squirrel turds.