Ford Motor Company (F): What Is It Thinking With Lincoln?

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) owned a whole bunch of different auto brands.

There was Jaguar and Land Rover and Volvo and Mazda and Mercury and Lincoln and even James Bond’s favorite ride, tiny British supercar maker Aston Martin.

Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)They’re all gone now, sold off during Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F)’s wrenching restructuring, casualties of CEO Alan Mulally’s determination to focus the whole company behind one single line of products.

All gone, that is, except for Lincoln.

Of all of the brands Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) once owned, the only one it kept was an ancient luxury brand started by Edsel Ford — a brand that in recent years has been known mostly for airport limos.

For a while, I thought I knew why. Just as General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) is doing with Cadillac, I figured that Ford would completely overhaul Lincoln, turning it into a high-margin, high-profit global luxury-car powerhouse.

General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)’s overhaul of Cadillac is starting to look legit. But I still don’t understand what Ford is thinking with Lincoln.

The change that got things rolling — only it didn’t
I admit that I got excited when Ford put Jim Farley in charge of Lincoln last year. You probably haven’t heard of Farley, but inside the auto industry, he’s a big deal. Alan Mulally once described him to me as Ford’s “secret weapon.”

Before Farley joined Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), he worked at Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:TM) — where he was the general manager of Lexus. In other words, he’s a guy with firsthand experience running a great luxury-car brand. He seemed like a great choice to turn Lincoln into something special.

But so far, it’s not happening, despite a marketing overhaul for “The Lincoln Car Company” that launched in December.

The latest Lincolns are pretty cars, but they’re not hitting home runs with critics the way Ford’s mainstream cars always seem to do. More to the point, they’re not selling. The Ford brand’s sales were up almost 7% last month. Lincoln’s? Down 22.5%.

It doesn’t help that Ford botched the launch of the latest Lincoln, the MKZ sedan, holding up production for weeks because of quality issues — while a huge national ad campaign was running. Intrigued potential customers visited dealers, only to find no cars.

That didn’t help Lincoln’s rep with the customers or with its dealers.

Ford’s magic has so far eluded Lincoln
Lately, everything that Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) has launched has seemed to be an instant success — except for Lincoln. Go back through Ford’s new-vehicle launches over the past couple of years — Fusion, Escape, Focus, Explorer. All big hits with critics and buyers. In some cases, Ford hasn’t been able to make enough to meet demand.