Lincoln Uses Venetian Leather to Woo Younger, Affluent Drivers

Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln luxury line, aiming to become hip with ads starring actor Matthew McConaughey, now is seeking younger, more affluent drivers with Venetian leather cockpits and personal service without dealership visits.

Lincoln’s so-called Black Label trim level evokes Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label line of high-end men’s clothing. Lincoln’s upscale treatment will debut next month in six states and expand nationwide in late 2015, said Andrew Frick, the brand’s group marketing manager. Initially, Black Label will be available for the MKZ sedan and MKC small sport-utility vehicle and will be added for the MKX SUV next year, he said.

Ford is eager to shake the image of Lincoln as a car for old people and an airport shuttle for business travelers as it tries to reverse a 65 percent drop in the brand’s sales from a peak in 1990, through last year. For an extra $5,995, Black Label will offer fashion-conscious Lincoln buyers a choice of four upscale interiors with names such as “Indulgence” and “Oasis” that feature high-end designer woods, luxury leather and suede interiors, and an extended 4-year, 50,000-mile warranty that covers regular maintenance, free car washes, and other perks.

“We’re expecting to attract a little bit different customer that what is coming in now, a little younger and more female,” Frick said. “The average household income would be upwards of over $200,000 versus $125,000 to $150,000 on average” now.

$2.5 Billion

Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields revealed plans in September to spend $2.5 billion on the brand during the next five years to introduce the line in China and roll out eight new models. In August, the Dearborn, Michigan-based company named Oscar winner McConaughey as its spokesman for commercials promoting the cars.

Sales of the line soared 25 percent last month on the strength of the brand’s new MKC and the moody spots depicting the actor slouched behind the wheel, rubbing thumb and forefinger.

The small SUV had its best sales month ever as comedian Jim Carrey mocked the commercials on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Carrey imitated McConaughey’s sotto voce musings on life as he rolls down a dark city street. The spots were also parodied on the animated show “South Park” and by talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien.

“It’s great to see a lot of the national conversation around Lincoln right now,” Frick said of the buzz around the promotion.

BMW, Audi

While all the attention has raised the brand’s profile, Lincoln lags behind in the U.S. luxury race. Even though the brand had its best October in seven years, its 8,883 deliveries last month were less than a third of the 30,602 that BMW reported. Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW offers its own upscale trim line, known as Individual, while Volkswagen AG’s Audi has a version dubbed “Audi Exclusive.” Audi sold 15,150 vehicles that month.

Lincoln expects about 5 percent to 6 percent of its buyers to opt for Black Label initially, drawn to additional perks such as annual detailed cleaning and membership in a diner’s club. Frick said that percentage could grow as younger buyers are attracted to the personal services that come as part of the package.

Black Label also allows owners to never step foot in a dealership because Lincoln will fetch their car for service and cleaning.

Leather, Suede

The “Venetian” leather found in Lincoln’s Black Label comes from less than 1 percent of the world’s raw hides because it must meet stringent standards for softness and durability, the company said. The “Alcantara” suede lining the inside of the roof of Black Label models can also be found on high-end cars such as Bentley and Porsche, according to Lincoln.

The extended warranty covers wear-and-tear items such as shock absorbers, engine belts and hoses, brake pads and windshield wiper blades. “Culinary Collection” membership gives Black Label owners “access to a curated list of restaurants from coast to coast, with noted chefs who will provide an at-your-service dining experience,” Lincoln said in a statement.

“We’re going to be in a really good place in terms of how many people select Black Label,” Frick said. “A lot of this is: How can you save the customer time? The people who are 35 to 55 are very stretched right now, they’ve got a lot of things going on in their lives. They want their experience to be effortless.”

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