Commentary

Revived Ultra Luxurious Lincoln Continental To Pursue Chinese Market

The Lincoln Continental — in name, spirit and ambition, at least — is back. With the emerging Chinese market as a catalyst, a concept of the revamped brand will be shown at the New York International Auto Show this week and will go on sale here and there next year as a rolling personification of capitalistic achievement.

“The Continental concept car harks back to the classic slab-sided sedans of Lincoln’s glory days a half-century ago, when the brand was the car of choice for American presidents and Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor and inspired popular songs like ‘Hot Rod Lincoln,’” writes Bill Vlasic in the New York Times, but it faded by the end of the century and went out of production entirely in 2002.

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The new Continental will be “one of only two Lincoln models, along with the Navigator SUV, to have a name instead of letters like MKZ or MKC,” writes CNN Money’s Peter Valdes-Dapena. It “is about the same length as a Mercedes-Benz S-class or long-wheelbase BMW 7-series, two expensive high-end luxury cars it is designed to compete against,” he says, as well as the forthcoming CTG Cadillac that will also be unveiled this week and will be that brand’s new flagship, as CNET’s Wayne Cunningham reported last week.

“The luxury segment represents 10% to 13% of the U.S. market and only 6% of the Chinese market, but these vehicles account for a third of the profits and their sales growth is outpacing the rest of the industry,” points out Alisa Priddle of the Detroit Free Press, who says new Ford CEO Mark Fields wants his due share of the pie.

“We don't want to be a feeder brand for other luxury brands,” Fields tells her.

He also says the car’s heritage is “‘the cherry on the sundae’ for the forthcoming Continental. But he said Ford was careful not to rely on nostalgia as inspiration for the vehicle,” the NYT’s Vlasic reports, acknowledging that it was designed with consumers on both sides of the world in mind.

“When you stand back, their wants and needs are more similar than they are dissimilar,” Fields tells Vlasic.

Which is to say that the one percent everywhere are indeed very different from the masses when it comes to things like back-seat legroom, tables that appear with the touch of a switch and a cooler for Champagne and touchscreens to control climate and present entertainment and “seats that are heated and cooled and adjustable 30 ways, thanks to 11 air bladders strategically placed in the seat cushion and all the way up the seatback to shoulder level,” as Edward Loh reports in Motor Trend.

“Push a few buttons, and the front passenger seat slides forward as the rear seatback reclines and a lower leg support rises up. Push a few more, and a thick-mirrored tray the size and shape of a King James Bible rises up from the center console and rotates over your thigh as if by magic,” Loh writes. 

“Loaded with thoughtful technology and lush materials, the prototype emphasizes rear seat comfort and amenities — an indication that the new Continental was designed especially for wealthy Chinese customers, who like to be driven,” points out Joann Muller in Forbes.

“Two additional models will be added to the Lincoln lineup by 2020. By then, the automaker hopes to be selling 300,000 Lincolns a year,” reports Muller — up from 94,000 last year.

“Lincoln is a core element of delivering on our target of profitable growth for all,” Fields tells her. “It’s also understanding we’re on a journey — that’s code for ‘it’s going to take some time.’ But that’s how you build great luxury brands.”

Indeed, “they have leapfrogged to a different realm of luxury. Lincoln to date has been premium but not necessarily luxury,” AutoTrader.com analyst Michelle Krebs tell Priddle of the Detroit Free Press, whose story includes some interesting background on the development of Lincoln’s new-old flagship from Scott Tobin, its director of product development.

“The Continental was born in 1938, when Henry Ford's son Edsel commissioned a convertible he could use on his spring vacation,” recounts the Associated Press’ Dee-Ann Durbin. “Thrilled by the reception he got as he drove the elegant sedan around Palm Beach, Edsel made the Continental part of Lincoln's lineup.”

And Ford expects it to be making a similar splash around Sanya, China, in a year or two.

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