Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

August 13, 2013

Lincoln brand introducing dealers to luxury buyers

CHICAGO (AP) — How to sell a Lincoln in 2013: Make the dealership smell like luxury. And lay out some wine and cheese.

After decades of selling hulking Town Cars to retirees, Ford Motor Co. wants the Lincoln brand to appeal to younger, more discerning buyers. Lincoln unveiled the sleek MKZ sedan this spring, and six more models will follow. It purged underperforming dealerships and is prodding the rest to make expensive updates.

Now, Lincoln is teaching its dealers how to appeal to the $4 latte crowd.

This summer, Ford brought 60 Lincoln salespeople to a boutique hotel in Chicago to learn about the likes (art museums) and dislikes (stuffy old steakhouses) of the so-called “progressive luxury” buyer. It was the third of five regional trainings sessions.

Lincoln’s target buyers — hipper, more affluent, better educated and more female than its current customers — are a mystery to many dealerships, some of which have been selling Lincolns since the 1930s. When a trainer in Chicago asks dealers the average age of their customers, one shouts out, “85.” Their source of income? “Social Security.”

One salesman puzzles over his choices when asked which Los Angeles hotel would appeal to the progressive customer: the Ritz-Carlton, the Palomar, W or Loew’s?

“The only Lowe’s I know sells hardware,” he mutters.

Lincoln was one of the top-selling U.S. luxury brands for decades, but was neglected after 2000 as Ford bought other luxury brands like Jaguar. Luxury buyers flocked to competitors like Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, while Lincoln became a car for airport limo fleets.

Everything changed seven years ago, when Ford narrowly avoided bankruptcy and embarked on a major restructuring. It sold or shuttered its other luxury brands, including Aston Martin, Volvo and Mercury, and poured millions of dollars into Lincoln. And while Lincoln makes up just 3 percent of Ford’s U.S. sales, it’s still an important contributor to the bottom line because Ford charges a premium for the brand. The starting price of the Lincoln Navigator SUV, for example, is $17,000 higher than the base price of its Ford counterpart, the Expedition.

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