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Lincoln, Desperate for Sales, Offers Weak “Black Label” Line

Douglas A. McIntyre

Lincoln, the luxury division of Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F), remains in the basement of mainline luxury brands, with a market share of less than 6% so far this year. The company for some reason believes that if is sells new models with special paint and interiors, then consumers will flock to its dealerships. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Lincoln Motor Company said it will offer a new "Black Label" line, which has special customer service and three packages of features. In reality, the car will be nothing more than an upgrade to the new MKZ, a car with unit sales that make it a nonentity in the luxury market.

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Lincoln for some reason thinks that luxury car buyers will turn away from the segment's leaders, which include BMW, Mercedes, the Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) Lexus line and Audi. Even Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s (HMC) low-end line of Acuras has a much larger share than Lincoln. And Lincoln's major U.S. competition, General Motor Co.'s (GM) Cadillac, handily beats Lincoln in sales.

The Black Label car line and its features are among the failed tricks car companies use in a attempt to off-load unpopular products. The special service that owners will get with the new vehicles appears no better than those offered to high-end owners of Mercedes or BMW. A set of "online tools" keeps buyers and owners in touch with Lincoln, as if a phone call will not do.

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Lincoln's main feint is that exterior paint, special interiors and three new versions of the MKZ will make the car more attractive. To that end, it has versions of the car that it calls "themes." They are labeled "Modern Heritage," "Indulgence" and "Center Stage." Model Heritage has little more to offer than a black and white interior and special wood trim -- as if these kinds of options where not available elsewhere. Indulgence is compared to expensive chocolate, as if such a comparison would sell a single car. Center Stage has a black interior, which many other luxury cars have as options. Part of it is Italian made, and the car has special "Designer Black Tie Wood." It nearly takes your breath away.

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Lincolns have been clunkers of years now. The Ford division has never had the sense to make radical changes and investments in the line in the way that Cadillac did. For the time being, all Lincoln has is a line of ordinary cars that sell of $40,000, more or less, and features that any Acura or Cadillac have.

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