Ford Chief Creative Officer J Mays: Lincoln Isn’t “True Luxury”

Ford’s Lincoln brand has often been criticized for offering warmed-over Fords that offer little differentiation and substance compared to platform mates wearing The Blue Oval badge. As it stands, Ford and Lincoln chief designer is aware of the assessment.

J Mays, the chief creative officer at Ford Motor Company told The Detroit Free Press back in August that Lincoln isn’t “true luxury.” At least not yet.

“No, we’re not true luxury,” Mays said. “We’re in an investment stage with Lincoln. We’ve probably got a 10-year investment to make.”

Lincoln has been desperately trying to change public perception since becoming unpopular in the 1990s. But the brand hasn’t really made a true effort to do so until the all-new 2013 MKZ sedan. It’s too early to tell if the strategy is working, but it is worth noting that MKZ sales are up 6.36 percent so far this year through October, but overall sales are down 2.97 percent. Lincoln had predicted a double-digit sales increase for 2013.

Notably, the brand is still selling Lincolns based on Fords, with the latest new Linc being the 2015 MKC compact crossover. The entry puts the brand into the fastest-growing segment of the luxury car market, a segment in which Lincoln has never competed.

While Mays didn’t disclose what, exactly, the future might hold for Lincoln, he did say the brand has a “whole list of things” coming in the next few years.

“Every brand needs to have a DNA and a unique selling point and things in the vehicle that make you think, ‘That’s that particular brand,’” he said. To that end, Lincoln has begun to introduce certain common design elements across its new line of vehicles, such as the lever-less gear selector in the new MKZ and MKC.

The Motrolix Take

Practically speaking, Mays’ 10-year turnaround forecast could be a realistic goal for Lincoln. To note, it took cross-town rival General Motors roughly that long to re-brand Cadillac from the stodgy luxury brand it was perceived to be (and is continued to be perceived by some, even today) to one whose products are considered to be at least on par with German luxury automakers BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. Caddy’s turnaround strategy started in 2002 with the first-generation CTS. In that regard, recognizing that Lincoln’s products don’t represent true luxury just yet (but are definitely getting there) is the first step towards a recovery; “acceptance is the first step towards recovery”, as they say.

But while Mays’ comments came this past August, it’s worst noting that he will retire from Ford/Lincoln come January, after a 16-year career at Ford, where he has led global Ford design language that’s visible in most of the vehicles the automaker produces around the world. In particular, Mays led the teams that developed the design for the highly-acclaimed Ford Fusion, Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, Mustang and F-150. He also was responsible for several significant concept vehicles such as the Ford Atlas, Evos, 427, Forty-Nine, Shelby GR-1, Lincoln MKZ and MKC.

Motrolix Founder with a passion for global automotive business strategy.


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