Ford's (F 2.71%) luxury Lincoln brand has begun the process of remaking its biggest vehicle, the truck-based Navigator SUV.
The company showed off what it's calling the Navigator Concept on Wednesday in New York. Ford officials say that -- aside from the doors, which are a strictly show-car touch -- it's a "very strong indication" of what the upcoming all-new 2018 Lincoln Navigator will look like.
A big new sibling for the 2017 Lincoln Continental
The original Lincoln Navigator, launched in 1997, was a brash "statement vehicle" along the same lines as General Motors' (GM 4.03%) Cadillac Escalade. But while the Escalade has maintained its brash looks even as it has moved upscale, the new Navigator looks to be staking out somewhat different territory.
The Navigator Concept's lines are softened, elegant rather than opulent. Inside, six large chair-like seats offer comfortable and roomy accommodations for six adults. The concept's interior lines, light-colored "nautical teak" wood trim, and polished aluminum brightwork seem inspired more by luxury yachts than by traditional premium SUVs.
The production version should get better fuel economy than the Navigators of old, too. The Concept is powered by the latest version of Ford's 3.5 liter turbocharged "EcoBoost" V6, which, in this form, is said to make "more than" 400 horsepower.
The new Lincoln Continental is offered with just one engine; it's a fair bet Ford will follow the same strategy with the 2018 Navigator.
An "elegant" truck-based SUV, not an "aggressive" one
The 2018 Navigator will still be a big, truck-based SUV. But if it follows the lines of the Navigator Concept, it'll be a toned-down one, in keeping with Lincoln president Kumar Galhotra's vision of "quiet luxury."
The new Navigator, like other recent Lincolns, is supposed to be an elegant and effortless vehicle, not an aggressive ones, Galhotra said. That thinking shows up in some surprising ways in the new Navigator Concept.
For instance, dashboards in other current luxury vehicles are often cluttered with buttons and knobs, but the Lincoln's dash is relatively clean. The goal of the designers was to keep things as simple as possible, to avoid "bombarding" the driver and passengers with information.
An alternative to the German vision of luxury cars
This different, quieter approach to the idea of "luxury" appears to be playing well in China, where Lincoln has established a toehold by deliberately striking a different note than the big German luxury brands. Lincoln's tiny (but fast-growing) network of dealers in China sold over 11,000 vehicles last year. That number should grow significantly in 2016, particularly once the new Continental sedan joins the lineup later this year.
And here in the U.S.? Well, Lincoln's sales in its home market were up a little over 7% last year. That's not bad, given that Lincoln is very much a work in progress. But I think Galhotra and his boss, Ford CEO Mark Fields, are hoping for bigger gains in coming years, as Ford continues to build on its "quiet luxury" vision.