Ford of Canada sold 54 MKZ sedans combined in January and February. Disaster. Then along came March: 124 sold. And in April, Ford's Canadian dealers moved 136 MKZs. Is there life at Lincoln, after all?
Ah, no. Not yet. But perhaps the bleeding has stopped, which means the patient isn't going to expire any time soon. Last month, Lincoln in Canada put together sales of 519 which, over 12 months, translates to 2013 sales of 6,228, seasonally unadjusted – or less than one-third of Audi's Canadian sales in 2012.
Still, Ford in the U.S. sold more MKZ sedans in April than in the first three months of the year combined. Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president of global marketing and the head of Lincoln, told Automotive News that MKZ sales in the United States would be "right around the 4,000-unit sales mark" in April. Not bad at all.
I'm zeroing in on the MKZ for a simple reason; the future of Lincoln is riding on this one four-door sedan. The car's launch has been something of a disaster so far, what with well-documented quality, production and distribution delays that coincided almost tragically with $8-million (U.S.) on two Super Bowl ads to promote Lincoln.
If you are rooting for Lincoln to come back from the near-dead, then you should be encouraged by a few things. First, the guy overseeing the whole and latest Lincoln renaissance is Farley. He's smart and energetic, charismatic and a real car guy who grew up in the business as the son of a Ford dealer.
He worked at Toyota before being recruited by Ford CEO Alan Mulally. At Toyota, Farley launched Scion successfully, though as we all know, the so-called "youth brand" has become something of a grand disappointment. Farley also oversaw Lexus back in the days when Toyota's luxury brand was a pillar of excellence.
Farley is capable and creative, but most important of all, he has Mulally's complete backing, his unequivocal support. He has the big boss's ear. Moreover, Farley remains in the running to replace Mulally when the 66-year-old CEO retires and that retirement is certainly imminent. So Farley is motivated both personally and professionally to fix Lincoln, and he will have the resources.
Make no mistake, Lincoln won't stumble for a lack of resources, either. That's different than anything we've seen in the last decade. Late last month, Ford said its net profits were up 15 per cent from a year earlier to $1.61-billion. Ford will surely nail down a fifth straight year of fat profits after losing $30.1-billion from 2006 through 2008 (all figures in U.S. dollars).
Everyone at Ford, from executive chairman Bill Ford Jr. to Mulally to Farley to the lowliest Lincoln dealer in the tiniest market knows that what is now being called the Lincoln Motor Co. is a thoroughly untapped asset. Untapped, yet at least Lincoln sales in Canada last month were up 10 per cent, as they were in the U.S., too.
"We are encouraged but fully recognize there is much more to be done," Farley said on a conference call with reporters this week.
Last week I visited one of the revamped Lincoln showrooms in Canada, the one at Oak-Land Ford in Oakville, Ont. It was part of a long-term look I've been taking at Lincoln, one the people at Ford have been irritated to read and hear. I've been highly critical because I started reporting on the car business in 1985, which means I've been hearing about Lincoln revivals for nearly three decades.
Nonetheless, I liked what I saw at Oak-Land and I was encouraged by what Jamie Rae, the Lincoln marketing plans manager, had to say. Lincoln will not be setting up an entirely separate, stand-alone dealer network in Canada. That will not happen. However, showrooms like the one at Oak-Land are separate and uniquely branded, with their own designated sales force, their own signage, design, materials and look. BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, and other luxury brands in Canada have their own standalone dealers, but what I saw at Oak-Land is probably the next-best thing.
So I'm going to give Lincoln the rest of this year to surprise me with steady progress before giving up entirely. I don't expect an overnight turnaround, but Lincoln in Canada should sell, oh, 8,500 vehicles this year, not 6,200 or 6,300. If Lincoln is to become a true success, sales in Canada should easily hit 20,000 in Canada and 200,000 in the U.S. by 2016, 2017 at the latest.
"This is going to be a long road over the next months and years coming for remaking Lincoln," Farley told Automotive News, echoing comments he made to me last December in a face-to-face interview.
To his credit, however, Farley is not pulling a Paul Martin. Remember him? Martin, the former prime minister, was notorious for under-promising and for lowering expectations when he was finance minister, so that when Canada's budget numbers beat estimates, he and his group looked like heroes. By contrast, Farley told me he's impatient to see Lincoln fixed and so is his boss, and so is Ford Motor's board of directors.
"It's such an important journey for the company," he added in comments to the industry publication. "It will not only need to continue but accelerate for us to be competitive."
There you have it. Farley wants accelerated results at Lincoln. We have a scorecard and Farley knows we are definitely keeping score.