NEW YORK, NY – These are tough times at Lincoln. Sales at Ford’s premium division in Canada are down by 10% for the first 10 months of the year and market share has shrunken to 0.3%.
Meantime, cross-town rival Cadillac is enjoying a resurgence with sales up 43% and market share at 0.5%.
But Ford is pouring considerable resources into Lincoln and sales of the most recent new model, the MKZ sedan are on the increase.
Jim Farley, executive vice-president of Lincoln said the transformation of the brand is underway. "Sales and transaction prices are up, more than 30% of the vehicles we sell today are hybrids and we are making progress in China, which is forecast to become the largest luxury market in the world by 2020," he said.
Lincoln plans three more all-new models by 2016, the first of which is the 2015 MKC, a new "small premium utility vehicle" that will go into production in Kentucky next spring and appear in showrooms by summer as a 2015 model.
Small utility vehicle market is key
Small utility vehicles are the fastest growing portion of the luxury segment, having grown by 20% in the U.S. and 130% in Canada since 2009.
We got an advanced look at the MKC here in New York, although not a chance to drive it.
It carries a great deal of pressure on its shoulders as perhaps the most significant new Lincoln in decades, one charged with drawing a new generation of consumers to the brand. Judging by looks alone, the MKC should pull this off.
Lisa Drake, chief engineer, told us development of the MKC began in 2010, based on Ford’s Global C platform, which also underpins the Ford Escape.
But the track has been widened by 2.5-cm for a more planted stance and the design team has done a masterful job of differentiating the MKC from its Ford counterpart, inside and out.
The front end bears the latest iteration of Lincoln’s split wing grille, while at the other end the largest piece of hydro-formed steel in the industry forms a one piece wrap-around tailgate complete with wall-to-wall LED tail lights.
The interior has been elevated to a new level in order to compete with the likes of Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and Range Rover. From a new steering wheel to multiple choices of wood trim and push button transmission controls, the MKC fits in.
Hard plastics are out and the key touch points are soft. The satin-finished wood trim actually came from a tree.
There is a pleasant blend of craftsmanship and technology. Plush Bridge of Weir leather with French stitching mixes it up with a high speed modem embedded in the vehicle and an app for smart phones that will allow the driver to program the car to start or shut off at pre-determined times, check fuel level or locate it in a crowded parking lot,
Another innovative MKC touch is putting out the welcome mat – literally. As you approach with the key fob in hand, pocket or purse, proximity sensors will activate the lights at both ends of the vehicle, backlight the door handles and shine a large rectangular Lincoln logo on the ground beneath both front doors.
Obviously Lincoln has been listening to customers. The futuristic but much-criticized touch-sensitive capacitive switches of the MyLincoln infotainment system have been augmented by old-fashioned buttons and knobs.
The optional THX sound system has been upgraded with 14 right-, centre- and left-speakers and a sub-woofer system incorporated in all four doors instead of a single unit taking up space in the cargo area.
Other technologies will include accident avoidance, lane keeping assist, cross traffic alert, and an active park assist that will not only help you into a tight spot, but guide you out as well.
The MKC will be powered by a pair of turbocharged four-cylinder engines. Standard will be the 240-horsepower, 2.0-litre EcoBoost common across the Ford line today.
Optional will be a new 2.3-litre version with a twin-scroll turbo and integrated three-port exhaust manifold and cylinder head. It's destined for the next-generation Mustang but makes its debut here.
The 2.3 is initially rated at 275 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic transmission will be standard.
All-new brakes will reside within 18, 19 or 20-inch wheels wrapped in unique Michelin tires developed specifically by the French company for the MKC.
"Lincoln Drive Control" will be standard, allowing drivers to cater the suspension to their wishes. A "Continuously Controlled Damping) system will monitor the road up to 50 times each second and adjust the suspension to ensure a desired combination of ride and handling.
The MKC will enter a market jammed with competition from brands that have well-established cachet. Lincoln hopes to recover some for itself with this newcomer.