Unlike some luxury automotive brands, this one puts its name rather than a logo on the boot lid

Unlike some luxury automotive brands, this one puts its name rather than a logo on the boot lid

It has been just over a year since what Ford calls The Lincoln Motor Company was the subject of a just-auto in-depth analysis feature. China is still nowhere near being the brand's largest market but sales there are up by a staggering 92 per cent and that's even without a local manufacturing presence. With things good in the US too, it surely won't be long before Lincoln returns to being a make selling in excess of an annual 250,000 vehicles worldwide. 

Lincoln's future remains fixed on two regions only: North America and China. Its sales are rising in the USA but not as rapidly as might have been hoped. The issue is one of product rather than image, so this is very good news in that it can be fixed relatively quickly. In short, there are not enough SUVs, a problem that the brand shares with GM's would-be global luxury division, Cadillac.

A chance to out-luxury the Mercedes X-Class

There is also a segment which Ford has half-heartedly pushed Lincoln into before; namely pick-ups. GM might get there before Ford does, if its product planners see the opportunity which exists for an authentically premium pick-up. Something around the same size as the X-Class but a real Lincoln, not a modified Nissan LCV. Adding to the far from luxurious baggage, the Benz pick-up is marketed by Mercedes-Benz Vans. And, it's also available as a Renault.

If Ford is willing to take a chance on such a vehicle for Lincoln, why not an electric drive system too? How long can it be until Tesla jumps into this segment? Or, as far fetched as it might sound right now, Volvo, Infiniti, BMW, Range Rover, Jaguar and Audi? TMC and Honda each takes many years to bring pencilled-in future Lexus and Acura models to market so these two can be ruled out, at least before 2019 or 2020, as can FCA's Jeep for the same reason. Ford should by all means base this hypothetical truck on the next Ranger but give it a unique body, a properly plush yet understated interior. Also, make the EV system exclusive to the brand for a couple of years before it becomes available in Ford models.

No-one knows where the price of oil will be tomorrow let alone in two to five years' time. So, Ford, why not follow BMW's example: plan to be making Lincoln light trucks in the USA on an architecture which can take combustion engines as well as electric motors?

Cars

There are only two Lincoln cars, or three if you count the gasoline-electric version of the Em Kay Zee. Ford's monthly production reports by plant and vehicle fail to break out gasoline and hybrid versions of the MKZ sedan so the total announced earlier this month is a combined number. This stands at a respectable 23,447 for the year to the end of July, although the number for last month plunged from 5,038 in July 2016 to only 2,818 units. That will be due to a slowing at Hermosillo as the Mexican plant responds to there being far less demand for what is now a four and a half year old car, plus the general move to SUVs over sedans, and not wanting to push 2017 model year cars onto dealers who will have buyers awaiting the lightly updated 2018s.

The current 2017 MKZ is 4,925mm long so not really that much shorter than the Continental. It went on sale in North America in mid-2016, having premiered at the LA auto show in November 2016. It offers the choice of 2.0-litre turbo, hybrid or 3.0-litre turbo engines. The last of these three was new and for now, it remains exclusive to Lincoln. It produces 400hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Lincoln calls its turbo engines GTDI. The 2017MY MKZ also had a facelift. Only the smallest changes are expected for the 2018 model year. The MKZ has been in production since December 2012.

As of now, Ford and Lincoln must be wondering whether or not to push the go button on the project to replace the MKZ. Yes, the existing car might well hit annual worldwide sales of around 35,000-40,000 units in CY2017. How about next year though? By the time the current MKZ and MKZ Hybrid are seven or eight years old in 2019 or 2020, will there be much demand for a Lincoln sedan of this size?

At one time, the next MKZ would have been the first vehicle for a bespoke Lincoln architecture called D6. While it remains unclear what Ford's position is on D6, this platform is or was being reportedly developed for front-, rear- and all-wheel drive applications and Lincoln is or was to have it exclusively for a time. Ford models on D6 would follow in due course.

By any measure, D544, which is the internal code for the Continental, has been a big success and the product planners who envisaged this car's size and positioning, as well as the interior and exterior design teams, should be congratulated. As at the end of July, 21,157 units of this 5,116mm long sedan had been manufactured at Flat Rock in CY2017. Production commenced in September 2016 for North America's 2017 model year. The car's main markets are the US, China and to a lesser extent, Canada and Mexico. All production takes place at the Michigan factory so the cars sold in China are high-priced imports.

Ford pulled the covers off this range-topper for Lincoln's car line-up at the Detroit auto show in January 2016. The Continental is a rival for GM's Cadillac CT6. It also serves as the effective replacement for the MKS sedan, production of which ceased in May 2016, as well as the slow-selling Lincoln MKT, a large crossover (see below).

The first engine announced for the car was a biturbo 3.0-litre petrol V6, with drive to all wheels and a six-speed automatic. Power and torque are 400hp and 400 lb-ft. A 335hp 2.7-litre biturbo V6 or a 305hp naturally aspirated 3.7-litre V6 are also available in North America.

A plug-in hybrid variant should be added for the 2019 model year, possibly sooner. The six-speed automatic gearbox will likely be replaced by GM and Ford's latest nine-speed transmission too.

The car for China went on sale there in November 2016, which was not long after sales commenced in North America. Strangely, there is no long-wheelbase body. A front-wheel drive four-cylinder variant is, however, a unique variant for this market's tax laws. This is powered by Ford's 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine, while the biturbo V6 is also available in the People's Republic. China's car has not been modified with individual rear seats - even for the top-spec versions - and there is no rear-seat infotainment system either. Lincoln should remedy this if not by 2018, then in time for the car's mid-life facelift in 2020.

The next generation Continental should be released in 2024.

Crossover and SUVs

As at the end of July, Lincoln had sold 29,254 vehicles in China, and China saw a 68 per cent year-on-year surge. Every one of these is subject to an import duty so that performance is all the more impressive. The best selling model is the MKC, an SUV which is closely linked to the Ford Escape/Kuga.

C489 is a rival for the Audi Q5. Its world debut was at the LA auto show in November 2013. All build is at Louisville Assembly in Kentucky and the on-sale date was June 2014 for the 2015 model year.

The introductory variants offered the choice of two engines: Ford's 179kW (240hp) 2.0-litre EcoBoost unit or what was then a new 2.3-litre EcoBoost. Both are direct injection turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engines. The 2.3 can be mounted either transversally, as in the MKC and Ford Focus RS, or longitudinally, as it is in the Mustang.

This compact SUV was the launch vehicle for official Lincoln imports to China, followed by the MKZ. There are reportedly well founded rumours that Ford is talking to Changan and the relevant authorities about the possibility of producing Lincoln vehicles in that firm's home city of Chongqing.

A facelift is expected for the 2018 model year, although this might be delayed until CY2018.

CX483 is the code for the second generation MKC and this should be released in both China and North America during 2021 or 2022. The architecture should be that of the fourth generation Ford Focus.

The next MKC will be manufactured in the USA, Ford stated in November 2016. This was in response to a comment by the then US president-elect Donald Trump who claimed in a tweet that he had persuaded Bill Ford to keep the next generation car in the US, rather than building it in Mexico.

Given the ongoing demand for SUVs and the sales performance of the existing, imported model, Ford is of course equally likely to also make the next MKC in China.

U540, which is the MKX, is a 4,826mm long crossover which was developed to take on the big-selling Lexus RX. It is manufactured in Ontario alongside its twin, the second generation Ford Edge. The car itself had its world premiere at the Detroit auto show in January 2015. Production commenced at Oakville in September 2015. The standard engine is a 300hp 3.7-litre V6 with a 330hp 2.7-litre biturbo V6 optional. A six-speed automatic is standard for both.

A facelifted model should appear in CY2019. The next generation MKX is pencilled in for 2022 although it might not appear until 2023.

What is provisionally named 'Aviator' or 'Navigator Sport' has been an on-off project for some years. It is now believed that it will be added to the line-up for the 2019 model year as a challenger for the Volvo XC90. The next Ford Explorer would be closely related to this 5m long FWD/AWD architecture SUV.

The proposed Aviator would be another logical model to begin building in China alongside the MKC, in partnership with Changan Auto.

The MKT, a large six- or seven-seat crossover, is thought to be in its final year of production, possibly even its last months. Originally intended to be a rival for the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7, it has never sold well. Unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January 2009, the MKT is built in Canada alongside the Ford Flex to which it is closely related. Sales in North America started in September 2009 for the 2010 model year.

As the MKT sells in only very small numbers (fewer than 5,000 in CY2016), it is not expected to be directly replaced. It should linger on until 2018, or it might instead be axed later this year. Oakville Ontario produced 233 MKTs in July and 1,680 during the first seven months of 2017.

Lincoln's largest SUV is of course the Navigator. New for the 2018 model year, U554 switches to an aluminium architecture based on the same one used by the Ford F-150. The Navigator and its as yet unseen long wheelbase L derivative share much with the 2018 Ford Expedition and Expedition MAX.

The new edition of this XL-sized SUV had its world premiere at the New York auto show in April, although Lincoln division did not reveal all of the model's details, such as its platform or even the engine capacity. What is known is that the biturbo V6 will produce a claimed 450hp. The body is made entirely of aluminium.

Production of the 2018 Navigator and 2018 Navigator L is due to start in November at Kentucky Truck. Expect ever more expensive and luxurious variants to be added to the range in the coming years as Lincoln attempts to position this model as a kind of half way house between the Cadillac Escalade and Range Rover. There could well be a good opportunity there in both North America and China, and Lincoln probably has the potential to lift its prices even higher than they already are in major Chinese cities. What it might need too, is a hybrid powertrain or even a fully electric one. Either or both should not be ruled out as being possible additions from 2019 or 2020. The future Ford F-150 Hybrid uses the same T3 architecture as the Navigator. For the same reason, a diesel V6 is another possibility, as is Ford's 2.7-litre gasoline V6.

Summary

With US market sales of 65,212 for the 1 January to 31 July period (+4.5%), and 29,254 deliveries in China (+92%), Lincoln is clearly having a strong 2017. Provided there is no economic crash in either or both of its two main markets, the brand looks to be on course for 200,000+ worldwide sales in 2018, and maybe even a quarter of a million. Much depends too on how soon extra SUVs can join the range. That number wouldn't be a record though as the brand was once selling in excess of 300,000 vehicles in its home region before losing the lead of the US market's luxury segments to German and Japanese makes.

Lincoln also needs to keep a close eye on how Jaguar, Audi and Mercedes' future electric SUVs do in China and USA, with the first of these on sale within the next six months. It's a pity that the brand is not a global one, with much of Asia and parts of the Americas plus all of Europe and Africa missing from the worldwide network. Yet if Ford can make this division a source of strong profits by keeping the focus for Lincoln mainly on North America, the Middle East and China, then that might not matter too much.

Future model plan reports for other manufacturers can be viewed in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

Additional data on vehicle lifetime and future product plans, such as code names, production plants and expected annual build, are available in PLDB from QUBE.

The next make for just-auto's in-depth examination of current and future models will be Ford.