Ford trains Lincoln dealers to go upscale
After decades of selling hulking Town Cars to retirees, Ford Motor Co. wants the Lincoln brand to appeal to younger buyers. Lincoln unveiled the sleek MKZ sedan in the spring, and six more models will follow. It purged underperforming dealerships and is prodding the rest to make expensive updates.
Now, Lincoln is teaching its dealers how to appeal to the $4 latte crowd.
This summer, as part of regional sales training, Ford brought 60 Lincoln salespeople to a boutique hotel in Chicago to learn about the likes (art museums) and dislikes (stuffy old steak houses) of the "progressive luxury" buyer.
Lincoln was one of the top-selling U.S. luxury brands for decades but was neglected after 2000 as Ford bought other luxury brands, including Jaguar.
That strategy changed, though, when Ford narrowly avoided bankruptcy seven years ago and sold or shuttered its other luxury brands, including Aston Martin, Volvo, and Mercury, and poured millions of dollars into Lincoln. Though Lincoln makes up just 3 percent of Ford's U.S. sales, it's still an important contributor to the bottom line because Ford charges a premium for the brand. The starting price of the Lincoln Navigator SUV, for example, is $17,000 higher than the base price of its Ford counterpart, the Expedition.
This kind of training isn't unusual in the auto industry. At Audi, it's called Kundenbegeisterung, German for "inspiring customer delight." Jeri Ward, director of customer experience for Audi in the United States, says her brand has been down this same road, with dealer renovations starting five or six years ago and a big push for dealerships to move upmarket when the new A8 sedan arrived in 2011.
Ford won't say what it's spending on the Lincoln training or on incentives to remodel its dealerships. It has even issued specific guidelines for Lincoln dealers to follow as they renovate their showrooms, right down to the specially developed Lincoln scent - a fresh-smelling blend of Earl Grey tea, jasmine, and orange flowers.