Lincoln MKZ Concept Derived off Ford Fusion Debuts at NAIAS

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“The MKZ Concept’s shape is a vision of simplicity completed with just a few strokes."

The new Lincoln MKZ Concept, revealed today at the North American International Auto Show, is the struggling brand’s latest attempt to fight its way back to relevance in the luxury or near luxury markets. Lincoln has sold a mere 85,643 vehicles in 2011, flat in a market that’s up ~10% from 2010. About 12,217 were sales were of the Lincoln MKS flagship model, a drop of 15%; Countering that, 27,521 MKZ models were sold – +22% – at the low end of the market, likely to former Mercury customers.

“We are essentially introducing a new brand,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford Motor Company group vice president for Global Product Development, admitting the current obvious plight of Lincoln to analysts in another presentation this morning. The problem is new Lincoln fixes really won’t be evident until the 2013-2015 model years. Frankly, Lincoln could go the way of defunct Mercury without massive infusions of capital to support engineering and design. which Ford

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Lincoln MKZ Concept’s four-seat interior is an open theme, but will just four seats make production?

Lincoln needs some sales successes and in the U.S – virtually its only outlet for this fading regional brand – where luxury car sales range from ~10-13% of the market annually. There’s an enormous opportunity now posed by Generation Y types, 80% of whom say they would consider a luxury car in the $30,000 range, which hasn’t escaped impending product actions at Lexus, Acura, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, among others.

Lincoln is dubbing its latest design direction “elegant simplicity,” which is an about face from the ill-conceived, defect-ridden My Lincoln Touch telematics system – caused Lincoln (and Ford with its clone) to plunge to below average in quality ratings this year. Software engineers are working overtime to simplify the system, which has more than 400 voice commands and a confusing, cluttered touch screen.

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Original waterfall grille on the 1938 model Lincoln Zephyr

“The MKZ Concept’s shape is a vision of simplicity completed with just a few strokes,” said Max Wolff, Lincoln design director. Judge for yourself.  The MKZ Concept remains identifiable as a Lincoln with a different version of the split-wing grille, introduced on the 1938 Lincoln-Zephyr.

The sweeping roofline already in use at other brands is an attempt to break away from the traditional sedan three-box shape. The lengthening of the roofline has an aerodynamic theme. The now popular panoramic glass roof spans uninterrupted from the windshield to the top of the rear window. Integrated into the sedan’s aluminum and boron steel superstructure, the fixed-glass extends to the side roof rails of the cabin, creating an open interior. Whether this makes production in this extreme form remains to be, well, seen.

Lincoln MKZ Concept’s four-seat interior – another production question? – is an open theme. “These flowing forms create a comfortable and functional interior that particularly appeals to the younger, more diverse customers we are targeting,” said Wolff.

The Lincoln MKZ Concept is based on an all-new mid-size Mondeo platform. As such, the sedan could use multiple powertrain options in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. The Ford Fusion version offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid options, and two EcoBoost four-cylinder engines. Four-cylinder engines in a luxury brand are not likely aspirational in my view, and present noise, vibration and harshness challenges to engineers, requiring elaborate sound damping techniques and materials.

The revised MKS will shortly (Q1) offer 3.5- and 3.7-liter V6 engines, with the current 2012 MKZ using the 3.5 V6, along with a no-charge hybrid powertrain option, likely the smaller one of these is a better, more luxurious path in the new MKZ.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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