Living in Connecticut, you begin to master the subtleties of the world of the high-end automobile.
I don’t own one of these magnificent machines. But of necessity I have become their student.
So today, on the way to lunch, I was impressed to see a luxury car I did not recognize. On closer scrutiny it proved to be a Lincoln. ”Wow,” I thought, “they finally got something right.”
Cars represent an interesting chapter of the designification of America (by which I mean the new sophistication in matters of design that has comes to virtually every category of consumer good). They went from terrible to something less disagreeable and in some cases to something close to splendid.
Ford let the way here with success stories across their line of automobiles. All but the Lincoln that is. These have remained really horrible. Tone deaf. As if somehow, someone at Ford has taken the Lincoln line captive, perhaps casting it into a deep sleep preventing any participation in the design thinking revolution.
So I was thrilled, finally, to see a Lincoln that didn’t suck.
I asked the owner, “Hey, when did this come out?”
He looked at me with surprise and said, “This car is 10 years old.”
So, does that mean that Lincoln has been designing nice looking cars for a decade and you didn’t realize; or that the last 10 years have been awful; or that their designs are 10 years ahead of their time?
Rick, I think Ford has developed some tricky “time release” design principle. Cutting edge.
It was probably the LS – from what I remember of its launch (back in my ad days) it was targeted to a younger demographic as Lincoln had an image problem – grandpa’s car. It was a sweet looking car and it would have been about 10 years ago or so. I haven’t seen one on the road in a long time so I gather the re-launch didn’t go as well as expected.
Kira, thanks, so do you know why they are caught in a design time warp? Best, Grant
It is interesting to note that Toyota and Honda are no longer used at quality and fit & finish targets by anyone. They have serious fallen as others have improved. GM is on a roll with their Cadillac which now completes with the German sedans for some.
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My favorite part is that somehow this Lincoln made it through. The car was rear wheel drive, like inevitable Town Car taxies that litter New York. It was designed as a sportier version of the Town Car, with a much stiffer ride and a significant power advantage. Base configuration came in two flavors, V6 or V8. The interesting cue about this comes in the fact that it was also offered in a V6 manual edition. In a country that long ago relegated manuals to low end econoboxes and high end sports cars, this decision was very, very unique. Lincoln seems beset by terminal boring, occasionally interspersed by some wily intraprenuer who does something great and then is probably fired (I’m going to check the backstory on the LS to confirm). Corporate culture is not just a component of happy employees. In a high level sense culture is reflected in the essence of product design, development and delivery. A culture that doesn’t care about groundbreaking ideas and people will never introduce anything resembling a ground breaking automobile.
Cody, fantastic add. Thanks! Grant
I lied, he wasn’t fired. Brought over from Ford’s European group for to design the LS, he, chief designer Helmuth Schrader, wasn’t quit ; he simply retired soon after the launch of the car at the ripe old age of 53 – http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=8818
I lied, he wasn’t fired. Brought over from Ford’s European group to design the LS, he, chief designer Helmuth Schrader, wasn’t fired; he simply retired soon after the launch of the car at the ripe old age of 53 – http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=8818
I knew I liked this guy, he exhibited some classically understated German pragmatism — A matter-of-fact statement from Lincoln LS chief designer Helmuth Schrader further emphasises this fact. “It all starts with the customer,” he said when explaining how his team approached the challenge of blending American and European design themes. “In the luxury sport sedan segment, customer tastes are simple – they simply want the best of everything. — The article here, http://media.ford.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=3101, helps reveal why the LS was such a success. In short, it was the quality research and maybe more importantly, the courage, conviction and competence to act on it.
I was as surprised by the fact that the LS is over 10 years old as by the fact that my parents just bought the new Lincoln MKZ hybrid, which has the same design DNA.
I’m no hard core car guy, but I took a quick peek at Wikipedia, which revealed these surprising facts:
-The LS is built on the same platform as the Jaguar S-type and the Ford Thunderbird
-It was designed to appeal to younger, first-time luxury car buyers, and they hoped to steal away Mercedes and BMW customers
-Buyers who, of course, would never sit in the driver’s seat of a Town Car or Continental
-The LS was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year for 2000 – seriously?!
-It also got top marks for safety, winning the IIHS’ Top Pick and CNBC rated it as “one of the 5 safest cars of all time”
-They sold over 57,000 of them in 2001. But then sales saw precipitous year-over-year drops, dwindling to under 9,000 by 2006.
-Ford discontinued the line as part of The Way Forward restructuring.
So the story line as I see it: LS is born out of a cross-pollination of cultures across Ford and Jag, and a during period of design indulgence (that also saw the re-birth of the Thunderbird). The LS design team is allowed to be brilliant and hit a home run — but, they’re shackled to their brand’s cultural baggage. Despite the critical acclaim, traditional Lincoln buyers aren’t looking for their car, and the people looking for their car wouldn’t be caught dead at a Lincoln dealership. They make a little sales headway, but the 2001 recession and 9/11 give the economy and Ford’s corporate resources a body slam, and the LS’ marketing goes on life support. From then on, it’s only a matter of time. But to Ford’s credit, the LS’ DNA remained on life support (as opposed to Jaguar, who gets sold off to India) and somehow revived in their current lineup. I’d hope it’s the same people, who were kept safe from the restructuring in some kind of Biodome outside of Detroit. If you look at the Lincoln site now, the Town Car and the Navigator seem to be the holdovers rather than the mainstays. I’m sure there’s a more complicated backstory (worthy of more investigation, grant!), but this looks like a case of a vibrant, minority culture getting pushed to the edge of extinction but flourishing in the end?
Baldwin, what a perfect addition, perhaps the best comment I’ve ever seen. Thanks! Best, Grant
If all comments were like this! But then there’s the enigmatic
ending that prompted them. What comes out is a brilliant collective
story about having the right product at the wrong brand-time.