Co.Design

That's A Lincoln?! With MKZ Concept, Ford Bets Big On A Brand Revival

The once-mighty Lincoln has struggled for 20 years. But Ford is trying to turn it around, using the power of design.

Today at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford unveiled the MKZ Concept, which is meant to herald a rebirth for its once-mighty, now struggling Lincoln brand. If it looks bold and even a bit foreign for the Lincoln brand, that’s the hope. "We believe that the trend of reimagined retro has gone by the wayside," Max Wolff, Lincoln’s head of design, tells Co.Design. "For Lincoln, the MKZ is about looking forward rather than back."

Far from being a mere concept, Wolff insists that the production MKZ that reaches showrooms later this year will look virtually identical to the concept you see here. "The average consumer shouldn’t be able to tell the difference," claims Wolff.

The design has a few, albeit subtle, nods to Lincoln’s history—the split grill being the most obvious. But Wolff’s team was at pains to make a departure from the Lincolns that came before, simply because the brand is too far behind to play it safe. "The customer we’re after is looking for something more modern," explains Wolff. Thus, the design has a few striking features: An all-glass roof of the sort that you might find on a Porsche Targa; strong, swooping lines intend to make the car seem taller and more dignified; and gonzo details, such as taillights that carry across the trunk, a la Aston Martin, and rearview mirrors that look as if they are perched on metal wings. The swoop of the grill itself, and the darting lines of the hood and headlights, were inspired by an eagle with its wings spread for takeoff.

Ford isn’t shy about what sort of customer they’re going for: Younger, urban, and coastal. And they believe Wolff knows what they want. Ford poached him a year ago from Cadillac, which has become a case study in turning around a brand using the power of design. Rather than hewing to a more familiar look that felt connected to the other brands in the GM stable, Cadillac separated itself from the market, with an unusual design language of gem-like facets.

Wolff seems intent on carrying over a similar strategy, calling the new Lincoln language "transformational." It better be. Lincoln accounts for only a small portion of Ford’s sales these days—just 4%, while Lexus is 12% of sales for Toyota and Cadillac is 6% for GM. For Ford to keep growing its profits, Lincoln has to become a viable luxury brand, which it hasn’t been for 20 years. Thus, they’ve invested heavily in a raising the brand’s design chops: Just over a year ago, Ford built a dedicated design studio for Lincoln—the first in Lincoln’s history.

Wolff believes that the timing is right, and that American car companies like Ford are finally on sure enough footing to take risks. "For so long, Detroit was looking just to save itself," he says. "We’re past that."

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25 Comments

  • Alf Ostlund

    IS IT A LINCOLN? 
    Even if Ford no longer owns Volvo, this new concept shows many similarities with the S60 but for the tail lights, which might had been taken from an Aston Martin...

  • Sander_ers

    At the front looks like a Hyundai with a Dodge Charger back... where is the Lincoln personality?

  • Bruce

    If it's about looking forward rather than looking back, why call it a Lincoln?  

    There were some iconic elements from the old Lincolns that they just walked away from.  Suicide doors that defined the term itself, and a Continental Kit or at least a bump on the trunk to suggest the same.  Lincolns were always big and gaudy.  Now they look like another trim luxury car inspired by Italian design.  Not sure that's a bad thing.

  • Daniel Silva

    Lincoln needs to build cars for the people who will buy their cars.  Face it.  My 28 year old Daughter will not buy a Lincoln.  I won't purchase a Lincoln because Lincoln does not build a car/truck/SUV I want.  Until Lincoln can build a vehicle for a 50something guy with grown children and X number of grand children Lincoln continue to just miss the target.  Build be a freakin 2 door, tire shreading, V8 car and I'll buy one.  Then a truck and a SUV that "we" want and you'll have all the sales and market share you can handle. 

  • Daniel Silva

    Lincoln needs to build cars for the people who will buy their cars.  Face it.  My 28 year old Daughter will not buy a Lincoln.  I won't purchase a Lincoln because Lincoln does not build a car/truck/SUV I want.  Until Lincoln can build a vehicle for a 50something guy with grown children and X number of grand children Lincoln continue to just miss the target.  Build be a freakin 2 door, tire shreading, V8 car and I'll buy one.  Then a truck and a SUV that "we" want and you'll have all the sales and market share you can handle. 

  • Kennedyrobert4701

    Can't wait to see it in reality,really love the Pictures.i had a 2008 MKZ and liked the car not crazy about the styling Have a 2010 MKS now and am enjoying it but looking forward to trying a 2013 MKZ.

  • Andoone

    The problem for the Lincoln brand I feel, is they are too much like Ford. I know this is common knowledge, in fact most car buffs can tell you the MKZ is just a Fusion or the Navigator is just an expedition. Even when you go to the parts store or a mechanic, they don't even bother to call it a Lincoln. They tell you this is a ford part or Fords tend to have that problem. Differentiate yourself from Ford!!
    No one ever confuses an Audi with a VW, except maybe the A4 because it is basically a Jetta, but again only in the basest model. Each other model is unique in it's quality, engine choices, customization and most of all LUXURY!! That is because Audi understands what makes a luxury brand worth 100k of your hard earned dollars.
    Every single Lincoln you can think of can be matched to a Ford model. They may have different style, somewhat, but the engines, interiors and choices can all be duplicated for 100's less. Six shades of grey exterior, or blue or red. Two interior colors, package one or package two.Most luxury brands have several colors, materials, woods, carbon fiber, brushed aluminum and for a price you can get a stereo system most have never even heard of. you pick and choose all the options you want to have exactly the feel, luxury and amount of technology you want, and they build you one.
    Now I understand from a cost stand point it is cheaper to produce fewer options and to encourage people to buy what is on the lot, but that type of buying experience does not warrant an additional 10 or 20 k. Much less the experience of such a vehicle. Lincolns are nice cars, but nice cars are not necessarily luxury vehicles.

  • mc

    The VW company loves to platform shares between marques. But they hide it very well. Similarly, every Renault is a Nissan, and many Mazdas are also Fords. Soon each Chrysler and Dodge will all also be a Fiat or related Italian marque.

    Ford re-using models to create Lincolns isn't the problem. They're just not good enough at it.

  • Stefano

    A couple of observations:

    - the intent is absolutely correct: Ford (just like all the other US car makers) need to work on design and improve how their cars look and feel if they want to survive.
    - i would agree that the re-hashing of old looks has made its time (who really needs ANOTHER camaro?? a lame car is a lame car, even if you give it a 'vintage/cool' makeover.

    as much as the intent was right, the implementation is not even close to what it should/could be.
    this to me is yet another example of 'design by committee', where a room full of people will debate ad nauseam on all the details, stripping and adding, until they are happy with a product that passes a dumb 'focus group' and 'pleases everybody'.

    the car, as it is , looks more like a Hyundai or a Kia (no disrespect meant, i think both companies are actually designing better cars than the big Japanese brands and the  American ones).
    it DOES remind much more of a Chrysler than a Lincoln, and that should be a problem.
    simply adding touches taken from Porsche or Aston Martin (!!!) do NOT make it a luxury car.

    it MUST have its own character and personality. what is missing is THE SOUL OF THE BRAND.

    IF it exists, it has to show.

  • Nnewton

    This reminds me of what happened when Ford put it's hand to Jaguar. There's not much surprising in this concept. While Wolff claims to be targeting a young, urban and coastal audience with this concept this appears to be more pedestrian, middle aged, suburban and rural.

  • Unimatrix05

    I remember reading Max Wolff on Wheels Magazine years ago in the early noughties where he was first discovered and work at Holden in Oz, with his first concept car for the Sydney Motor show (2003?). Good onya mate for helping Ford with their Lincoln. Please avoid the busy and cluttered looking current Ford's "Kinetic" design language. Cadillac "Art and Science" language has lasted the time with their crisp surfacing treatment. 

  • Chris Davis

    Another agreement with . It is a very nicely detailed Ford Fusion. Until Ford commits to using unique platforms for Lincoln they will continue to look like the gussied up Fords they are. Until they commit to RWD, Lincolns will be more like a low-end Lexus than a Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW, or Cadillac.

  • Quinnbarry

    many of the details actually remind me of Chrysler. The grill looks like the Chrysler logo and the detail of the rear lights seem almost like the Challenger/Charger. The wheels could have been on the big Chryslers (Jeep does those horrible chrome wheels too). The whole car feels thick, similar to some of the new Hyundai designs. 

    I feel like this car needs a refresh and it hasn't even been released yet.

  • Quinnbarry

    Yes, it has its own look, especially when you point out that it is like a Porsche or an Aston Martin. Having owned both I can tell you it is like neither. You might s well say it has four wheels, like an ice cream truck.

    Polite, expected, conservative, tailored and better than anything they have done in a while, but no where near original enough to make it a true marque.