Lincoln Unveils Ultra-Premium Designs


Ford/Lincoln MKZ. Photo: Ford Motor.

Ford's (NYSE: F  ) Lincoln luxury line has suffered through a rough patch of years. Earlier in 2013, the redesigned MKZ stumbled out of the gate a few months late to dealers because of supplier issues and lengthy quality inspections. But of Ford can perform the same impressive turnaround with its Lincoln brand as it did with the Blue Oval, things are about to get interesting. Ford's recently previewed ultra-premium "Black Label" theme designs make their in late 2014 and could help reinvigorate a brand that has long since forgotten it was a top-selling luxury lineup more than a decade ago.

"Lincoln Black Label will offer an experience for our clients that will engage them, not overwhelm them," says Ford marketing chief Jim Farley. "Lincoln Black Label is another important step in our brand's reinvention to appeal to a whole new group of progressive luxury clients." 

Lincoln's goal with its Black Label designs was to create an ultra-premium story using expensive and high-quality materials, as well as exclusive color schemes for the interior and exterior. The materials in certain themes will include Venetian leather, premium Alcantara material, and ziricote, a rainforest wood that's often used in high-end yachts. But this goes beyond just super-premium materials and products; it's also about stepping up Lincoln's service programs with dealerships that sign up for the Black Label program.

There will be three Black Label themes available in late 2014: Indulgence, Center Stage, and Modern Heritage. All three will be available for the MKZ, while the MKC will feature the Modern Heritage theme. Here's how Ford described its Modern Heritage theme in a recent press release.

Modern Heritage offers a fresh take on the classic black-and-white interior with subtle red accents. Designed for the client who appreciates a clean, modern aesthetic, the soft white interior is warm and inviting. Renewed and engineered wood trim -- imbued with metal flake between its layers -- creates a sparkling effect to stylishly highlight this modern classic design.

Here's a look at the MKC with the Modern Heritage interior concept.


Interior of MKC concept with the Modern Heritage Black Label trim. Photo Credit: Ford Motor.


Interior of the Modern Heritage Black Label trim. Photo: Automotive News.

Below is a glance at the MKZ's Center Stage interior concept.


Ford/Lincoln's MKZ with Black Label Center Stage trim. Photo Credit: Ford Motor.

Investing takeaway
Ford is years ahead of crosstown rival General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) in taking value to its bottom line through efficient operations and running plants near capacity. It also is years ahead in consolidating its global platforms, which is drastically improving its cost position. One thing Ford is years behind in is its luxury line, where it's been on the sidelines watching Cadillac have its most improved sales year since 1976.

Ford launched its all-new MKZ this year to kick off a round of Lincoln redesigns aimed to reverse years of low sales -- which were down another 8% this year. Ford's stock price is up almost 80% over the past year, and investors hoping to see Ford continue its stock price increase will need to see success in its Lincoln lineup over the next two to three years.

While the sales volume at Lincoln will always be much lower than its Ford brand, the luxury sales command a higher transaction price and contribute a higher margin to Ford's bottom line than standard vehicles do. Luxury sales are also purely incremental sales to Ford, because the two brands don't directly compete in any segments. Rather than compete, loyal Ford consumers who become higher-income earners would be stepped up into the Lincoln lineup and become more profitable to Ford.

Only time will tell if the upcoming handful of redesigns will provide the spark needed to revive Lincoln, and if the Black Label trims can stir up enough hype next year -- but If the turnaround at the Blue Oval is any indication, the odds are in Ford shareholders' favor.

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