Ford Is Bringing Back the Lincoln Aviator

  • Aeronautics-inspired SUV will go after moneyed millennials
  • Nameplate gets new life after short-lived, underwhelming run
Jim Farley, president of global markets at Ford, discusses the company’s shift to SUVs, autonomous driving and China.

To get its flagging luxury brand flying again, Ford Motor Co. is applying aeronautic looks to a new three-row SUV and bringing back one of its all-time worst crash-and-burn nameplates.

The Lincoln Aviator debuting Wednesday at the New York International Auto Show is the latest in a series of new or updated SUVs from Ford’s premium vehicle line. With a design inspired by the downward slope of an airplane wing, it’s styled to woo moneyed millennials turned off by aggressively sculpted alternatives.

Lincoln Aviator

Source: Ford Motor

“From our competitors, there’s an overwhelming feeling in the marketplace of masculinity, overtness and aggression,” David Woodhouse, Lincoln’s chief designer, said at a briefing in New York this week. “We want to be about seduction, not attack.”

American consumers can be forgiven for not remembering Lincoln sold an Aviator before -- it wasn’t around long and sold in measly numbers. Ford has opted to bring it back because cheap gasoline and a strong economy has helped fuel voracious appetite for sport utility vehicles in the U.S. It’ll share the spotlight in New York with General Motors Co.’s new Cadillac XT4 crossover and Honda Motor Co.’s redesigned Acura RDX SUV.

Youth Injection

Ford is counting on this model to help inject a bit of youth into its luxury brand’s buyer base. Mid-size competitors like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 appeal mainly to 35- to 44-year-olds and account for one-quarter of all luxury SUVs sold, according to the company. The average age of Lincoln buyers now stands at 60 -- eight years above the average for the U.S. luxury-car industry.

Built on a new rear-wheel-drive platform that’ll also underpin the next-generation Ford Explorer, the Aviator will be powered by a twin-turbo engine that can be mated with an optional plug-in hybrid electric motor.

Lincoln is reinforcing its SUV line as the brand’s sedan sales sink. Its brash behemoth Navigator has been flying off dealer lots and appears poised to unseat the Continental as the luxury line’s flagship only two years after the sleek boulevard cruiser’s introduction.

“In our research, people felt like the Navigator was the right product to really rejuvenate the brand,” Jim Farley, Ford’s president of global markets, said in an interview. “I would leave the flagship question up to customers.”

Forecaster LMC Automotive predicts that Lincoln’s sedans will dwindle to just 7.8 percent of sales by 2021. That projection portends a bleak future for the Continental and its slow-selling stablemate, the MKZ.

Pothole-Proof

The Aviator is the first of two new SUVs coming from Lincoln by 2020. It’ll be the first Ford product to allow owners to use their smartphone as the key to unlock doors and start the vehicle. The SUV also will be equipped with forward-facing cameras able to read the road, anticipate bumps and potholes and soften the ride.

Unlike the Navigator, the Aviator won’t have aluminum body panels but will use a “mix of metals,” according to chief engineer John Davis, who declined to elaborate.

When it arrives in dealerships next year, the Aviator will slot in just below the Navigator and give Lincoln a three-row, medium-size SUV for the first time since its predecessor was discontinued in 2005, following just three model years.

Family Resemblance

“The Navigator is going to appeal to more of a truck type buyer that has more towing needs,” said Robert Parker, Lincoln’s director of marketing. “The style of the Aviator, although you can see a family resemblance, is far more athletic, so I would imagine it would appeal to younger buyers.”

Admirable looks aside, Lincoln will face strong competition from competitors like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and Lexus, which vastly outsell the American luxury brand, said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with car-market researcher Autotrader.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” she said of the Aviator. “Lincoln hasn’t earned its cred with the young crowd and that’s an audience that tends to like import brands.”

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