CHICAGO | With fewer nameplates to compete with at Ford Motor Co., company officials hope a revamped Lincoln product line can boost languishing vehicle sales for that brand.
Ford took its first crack at that plan with full production of the 2013 Lincoln MKS that began in Chicago within the last week.
Megan Gillam, marketing manager for the Lincoln MKS and MKZ, said the MKS is one of seven "refreshed" vehicles the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker plans to roll out through 2014. Ford unveiled the full-size luxury sedan at an auto show in Los Angeles late last year, and it is one of the vehicles on display at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.
"It's not something that will happen overnight," Gillam said. "We're really hoping for Lincoln to become a world-class luxury brand."
The MKS has been produced since 2008 at the Chicago Assembly Plant at 126th Street and Torrence Avenue in the city's Hegewisch neighborhood. The vehicle's best sales year was 2009. Lincoln sales dipped slightly in 2011 from a year earlier, but the 85,643 vehicles sold last year indicate a drop of nearly 35 percent from 2007.
Part of the brand's problems stemmed from its vehicles having only minor interior styling and sheet metal differences compared to less expensive models under other Ford nameplates.
"I think also in the past, Lincoln was fighting (for) a lot of other resources at Ford," Gillam said. "We're 100 percent focused on making Lincoln our luxury brand and succeeding."
Aaron Bragman, senior automotive analyst with IHS Global Insight, an analysis firm, said the changes in "refreshed" products such as the MKS may buy the brand some time, but it will take a few years before larger model changes are seen in the market, especially after the hiring of a new design director, Max Wolff, 13 months ago. The first Lincoln vehicle was produced in 1920.
"There's very few problems in the auto industry that good product can't solve," Bragman said.
Gillam said redesigned vehicles coupled with dealers' investments in their properties are part of plans to win customers back by making emotional connections with them. She said MKS is Lincoln's first to provide standard its automatic drive control system, which allows the driver to control the vehicle's on-road performance. Other changes to the vehicle from customer recommendations include redesigned cup holders to accommodate a variety of beverages and a wider opening for the trunk to make better use of the larger space.
Three MKS models — a standard 3.7-liter, V6 engine with front-wheel drive; 3.7-liter, V6 engine with all-wheel drive; and a 3.5-liter, EcoBoost V6 engine — are expected to hit dealer lots in the spring.
The starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is $42,810.