Ford's said its upmarket brand, from the newly renamed 'The Lincoln Motor Company' wants "once again be a major competitor in the premium automotive marketplace", starting with the new MKZ midsize luxury sedan.
Lincoln attracted some media criticism at the recent LA auto show for an odd stand featuring classic models from the past surrounding a glass cubicle, entrance guarded by suited officials, that housed a solitary MKZ.
"Today we are announcing a new beginning for a brand that has been part of our company and the American fabric for more than 90 years," said Ford CEO Alan Mulally. "The new Lincoln brand will be defined by great new luxury vehicles that feature quality, unique style with substance and innovative technology. These elements, coupled with a new level of warm, personal and surprising experiences, will enable Lincoln to appeal to today's new luxury customer."
Ford has previously dumped acquired UK luxury brands Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover which, with Lincoln, once formed part of its Premier Automotive Group. More recently, it axed Mercury. Mulally said the company decided to continue to develop only the Ford and Lincoln brands. Ford has had "a major rejuvenation" and "now the time is right for Lincoln to stand on its own and move in the same direction".
"With its focus on attracting a new market of individual-minded luxury consumers, Lincoln will deliver a range of vehicles that combine stunning elegant design with technical innovation," Ford said.
"The time is now for Lincoln," said Jim Farley, recently named head of global marketing, sales and service for Lincoln. "The 'Great Recession' changed people and their view of luxury. Today, luxury consumers make decisions based on what appeals most to their passions and not what they believe will impress others. We know we need to continually surprise and delight these new clients."
The MKZ will be the first of four new vehicles in the next four years targeted at a group Ford called 'progressive luxury consumers' who account for nearly 25% of all luxury vehicle sales in America. They are described as "affluent individuals who no longer purchase to maintain an image for others but instead seek fresh new alternatives that appeal to them because they found a truly unique choice".
A new host and 24/7 concierge service, available through the brand's website, lets potential buyers work with a personal concierge who guides them through the full buying process and stays in contact with the owner after delivery. The so called Lincoln date night lets the potential buyer use a car for the weekend to treat someone else to a night out.
Lincoln will also advertise for the first time during the broadcast of the upcoming Super Bowl, with help from comedian Jimmy Fallon, running a commercial written entirely by social media, with consumers participating through Twitter.
Consumers will provide 140 character contributions to a script and Fallon will compile the best contributions into the ad.
NFL champion Emmitt Smith has been recruited as brand ambassador to promote the MKZ at the game in New Orleans.
Reuters reported that, in 2011, Lincoln sales were just 85,643 - less than half the amount sold by Toyota's upscale brand Lexus.
The report said Ford was aiming for the new MKZ sedan to command a more than 50% conquest rate - currently, over 40% of current Lincoln buyers come from other luxury brands. The MKZ competes with the Cadillac CTS and Lexus ES.
Ford wants to lower the average age of Lincoln buyers to 57 from 65 years old, and raise the target average income more than 50% to nearly US$160,000 a year, Reuters added.
The news agency noted some analysts and executives are sceptical about the brand's prospects. In an interview with the Detroit News last year, General Motors co chief executive Dan Akerson said Ford "might as well sprinkle holy water" over the brand.
"I'm in southern California [Santa Monica] and there's not one Lincoln around here. The reason is it's not because Lincoln doesn't make good cars, it's because people buy image here," TrueCar.com analyst Jesse Toprak told Reuters - which added that Ford had reduced its Lincoln dealer network to focus on the top 130 luxury markets and created the brand's first dedicated design studio in about 40 years.