Ford May Alter Lincoln Models to Appeal to Chinese Buyers

Ford Motor Co. is considering modifying Lincoln models before they go on sale in China next year to meet the tastes of consumers there who often expect to be chauffeur-driven in their luxury cars.

“The brand will come to life in China a little differently than here,” Jim Farley, Ford’s chief of Lincoln and global marketing, told reporters yesterday at the Detroit auto show. “We’ve made several changes, but we haven’t shown the Chinese variations of our products yet.”

Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally is trying to revive Lincoln and make it a global brand. In the U.S., sales have fallen 65 percent since peaking in 1990. Lincolns go on sale in China, the world’s largest auto market, in the second half of 2014. Ford may have to alter its new Lincoln models, such as the MKZ midsize sedan, to attract customers who ride in the back seat of the car.

“MKZ-class vehicles or above are chauffeur driven,” said Farley, who declined to say if Ford is stretching Lincoln models to make back seats bigger. “All the technology we put in for the driver is often someone who is driving the owner. Those are not subtleties. Those are really fundamental product requirements.”

Mulally yesterday unveiled a concept for the Lincoln MKC small sport-utility vehicle, set to go on sale in the U.S. next year. The compact SUV, which resembles a Range Rover Evoque, features Lincoln’s new signature split wing grille and narrow, small headlights. Chinese consumers prefer big headlights and a different front-end look, Farley said.

Cultural Complications

“The front face of the vehicle is an area we’ve been trying to work out and see more dilemmas,” Farley said. “It’s complicated culturally. Generally speaking, we find the tastes for the front-end of the vehicle can be very different between China and the U.S.”

Farley said Lincoln is working to reconcile those differing tastes in the models it takes to China. He declined to say what changes are being made to the front-end of Lincolns for China.

“Chinese consumers really appreciate larger lights, more vertical, where the west seems to be going to more narrow lights,” Farley said. “So that’s something we’ve really had to think through.”

Decisions on product changes for Lincoln will have to come quickly because the brand’s introduction is coming soon, Farley said.

“This story will evolve a lot over the next year,” he said.

Lincoln Strategy

The MKC and MKZ are among four new Lincoln models coming in the next four years as Ford spends $1 billion to turn the brand around. Comedian Jimmy Fallon is helping Lincoln produce its first Super Bowl ad Feb. 3 from suggestions he solicited on Twitter. Farley wouldn’t say if Fallon would appear in the ads.

Lincoln had U.S. sales of 82,150 vehicles in 2012, down from a high of 231,660 reached 22 years earlier. Its deliveries fell 12 percent in December, when luxury vehicles typically sell well. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW was the top-selling luxury-auto brand in the U.S. last year, with 281,460.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.