It says something when your main demographic for a vehicle is 65 and older, "time to retire". Ford (NYSE:F) decided it needs to reinvigorate its Lincoln brand with new designs and a focus on customer service. While the customer service bit is spot on, I cannot disagree more with the decision to keep the "Lincoln" brand anymore than the numerous brands that have died (and rightly so) since new millenia started.
The idea that it's not the brand but the features that are holding you back is the same idea "it's not the model, it's the features" the same reason why manufacturers can't seem to make a hybrid that will compete with Toyta's (NYSE:TM) Prius writ large on a brand scale. You need a model that IS a hybrid and not a model with 'hybrid' as an option (ie not a Malibu or a Fusion or a Civic with a hybrid option). Other brands have given up in this area, choosing instead to invest too soon in overpriced all-electric models that sacrifice all cost/benefit and assume consumers are idiots who won't figure out it will take 10-20 years of driving to make up the cost difference-- but I digress. In much the same way you can't just take a dead brand like Lincoln and try to turn it into BMW or Lexus by simply adding "now more like a luxury brand!".
What Ford needs to do is kill the Lincoln brand and come up with their own "Lexus". I've seen the MKZ from the New York auto show and I admit the interior makes some very good progress (whether any of it survives to production...). The exterior is deplorable though. It looks like a round pill version of design cues we already see in the Fusion or the Taurus and that is exactly why it immediately fails. This is supposed to be a luxury car, not a Fusion or a Taurus. Switching from a vertical to a horizontal grille is not enough. You look at BMW, Lexus, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz concepts and you feel like you are looking at a version of the future, of vision and direction. You look at the MKZ and you feel like you are looking at a company playing catch-up.
There is hope for Ford. It's similar in a way to a failed fine dining restaurant. At first you try to do what everyone else is doing, then you sacrifice your quality, then you loose your customers, then you are afraid of losing what few customers you have left. This is a chance to start fresh. Cadillac has just enough 40-50 year olds that make it too risky to change too much. Ford would abandoning almost no-one if they let Lincoln die. As it stands, Lincoln sales make up a scant portion of the bottom line (good thing for the stock price). The company could also compromise and make Lincoln into a sort of Buick, but I would recommend against this mistake made by General Motors (NYSE:GM). Afterall, who is in the market for 'almost luxury' for 'not average, but not quite prestigious'? GM's model is to be avoided and Toyota's (TM) is to be praised. Therefore, Ford should have a youth brand (compact, affordable, very stylish), a main brand for the broad market, and finally a luxury brand (unique in an opulent, excessive, detailed, and high quality way). Visiting the fine dining restaurant analogy again, the ones who are successful don't resort to gimmickery and they don't copy everyone else; they know they have to be unique, guard their reputation and image and always provide exceptional quality.Many might say "look at Cadillac; they improved", but have they? It seems to me Cadillac managed to create the CTS and everything else they make has or is slowly dying. Remember the STS or the DTS? The brand currently has 3 models and over half of the offerings are variants on the CTS. But this is not about Cadillac, it's about Lincoln, it's about old men in a barber shop debating whether they should have bought a Town Car or a Deville 30 or 40 years ago and not about what college students are planning to buy, looking forward when they are successful in 10 years.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.