How to Revive a Luxury Brand: Or, Lincoln, Have You Seen Infiniti Lately? [Opinion]
If you pay attention to what's going on in the auto industry on a semi-regular basis, you'll have heard of the constant harping on Lincoln for the lack of brand differentiation between it and working-class Ford products. Under Ford CEO Alan Mulally's "One Ford" plan, he pretty much rendered the brand as feeble as the people who used to buy its Lincoln Town Car sedans before that model was discontinued. Ford reps have said Lincoln is in it for the long-run, but their products have been half-hearted at best. The make was rebranded as the Lincoln Motor Company at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, harking back to the good ol' days of hand-built Continental Mark IIs and Zephyr sedans. But today most Lincolns are rebadged, more expensive versions of Fords that already sell decently well. The most differentiated model of the lot is the new Lincoln MKZ, which looks as ritzy as its price suggests, but it's still Ford Fusion-based, albeit stretched and available with a V-6. Compared to the entry-level class in which it's supposed to compete, it's a Clydesdale among quarter horses, going up against cars like the Buick LaCrosse more so than the BMW 3 Series. Simply put: Unless you like the way it looks, there are very few compelling reasons to buy a Lincoln made today. And that brings us to Infiniti. Much as Lincoln has experienced, Infiniti has had little cachet. In an interview with WardsAuto, Nissan Executive Vice President Andy Palmer said he was given the go-ahead to get rid of Infiniti. He didn't. "(Infiniti has) nice premium cars, but frankly, (they're) kind of discount," says Palmer. "And we've been selling those cars over a period 23 years with a Nissan-push mentality." Sounds a bit like Lincoln's quagmire of decent vehicles, a push for volume, and nothing that really makes them that special. Alas, Infiniti is doing something about it. Some of its highest-profile vehicles--the Infiniti M, QX56, EX, FX, and upcoming Q50 sports sedan--remain on on platforms that are unshared with lesser Nissan models, sans the 370Z that starts at nearly $34,000. Infiniti wants to push them further upscale, with an image rivaling the best from Germany. As the brand most idolized Audi for its ability to move upmarket autonomously from Volkswagen while still sharing space under the corporate umbrella, it plucked that company's U.S. president, Johan de Nysschen, to oversee its growth. But it's going to take time. Over the next four years, Infiniti will be revitalizing its entire lineup and adding four new models, including an electric sedan based on the Nissan Leaf and a small, front-wheel-drive luxury car that will share its architecture with the upcoming 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class. A sports car and a full-size luxury sedan are also possible, according to de Nysschen. Out of the new partnership Infiniti has fostered with Mercedes-Benz will also be a diesel engine for the Q50. The Infiniti brand appears to be alive and doing just fine. Originally created as a response to Lexus and Acura in the U.S. so it could sell some premium Japanese cars stateside, Infiniti is branching out to become a truly international brand now. It's even headquartered in Hong Kong, as the brand recognizes that China will be a focal point for its expansion. Infiniti has a plan to eventually reach a sales volume of 500,000 sales per year--150 percent up from where it is now. And it has someone with international experience leading the brand. On the other hand, Lincoln will be entering China for the first time this year in its international expansion, largely blind. Largely going on the same style of premium sales model Buick established in China a decade ago. Its MKC crossover will be coming out soon to do battle with the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, but it's largely based on the same underpinnings as the Ford Escape. Unfortunately, Lincoln doesn't have a unique selling point anymore. All of its cards are on the table, and none of its hands look that good. Hoping beyond all hope, we'd love to see Lincoln make a comeback, with glitz and flare, with the song "Hot Rod Lincoln" playing in its commercials. We'd like to see Lincoln's keepers look at the market with less myopia and realize that all the marketing in the world with the Lincoln Motor Company won't sell cars if there's no product to support it. And, lastly, we'd like to hope Lincoln has given a good, hard look at the bold plan Infiniti has set forth on a line of cars it really doesn't need to make them into something that makes the owners of them feel special. If a 24-year-old nameplate with almost no brand equity can reinvent itself, why can't Lincoln remake itself in the image and with the cars and trucks the storied brand deserves? Source: WardsAuto
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