Lincoln’s future: Push-button transmission, glass roofs

By: James B. Treece, Automotive News on 8/15/2011

Lincoln dealers are skeptical. Ford Motor Co. wants them to invest in dealership improvements and customer services, such as car washes, before the automaker launches vehicles needed to put the struggling brand back in the luxury game.

But with Lincoln sales up a scant 1 percent through July, amid an overall market that was up 11 percent, and having lost the higher-volume Mercury sales, dealers are saying, “Show me the product.”

Automotive News was invited to see some of the product. Here are highlights of the briefing.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, said Lincoln is “heading in the right direction, but needs to take another step.” That means designs and features that set Lincolns apart from even a top-of-the-line, flagship Ford Taurus.

“No more badge engineering,” Kuzak vows.

Unique vehicles require unique development staffs. Ford has assigned more than 100 people to Lincoln’s design team, a change from two years ago when Lincoln designers were part of the integrated staff that also designed Fords. On the engineering side, Lincoln has a director of product development, Scott Tobin, a change from six months ago. There are Lincoln-exclusive powertrain development people, and there will be unique powertrains in some models, paired with eight-speed transmissions.

Here are other unique features and technologies that Lincoln will have:

— Push-button shifting controls. Forget the gimmicky chrome push-button shifts on the infamous Edsel. Taking out the shift column opens up the look of the interior.

— Fully retractable, all-glass roofs. This is not a typical 2-foot-by-1-foot sunroof, but a massive sliding pane.

— Continuously controlled damping, which allows a driver to choose among ride qualities.

— Available all-wheel drive in all models. This is available in Lincolns today, except the soon-to-disappear Town Car.

The brand aims at what Lincoln calls “progressive luxury” customers.

A traditional luxury buyer might stay at a Ritz or Four Seasons hotel; a progressive luxury consumer would prefer a small boutique hotel. Both demand the same level of performance, feel and quiet in their vehicles. But Lincoln’s target buyers view their vehicles as expressions of their personalities, not as trophies that show the neighbors they’ve arrived.

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