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The resurrection of Lincoln: will it succeed without standalone dealers?

The 2013 Lincoln MKZ.

SHANNON STAPLETON/REUTERS

Ford has a big, big problem with its Lincoln brand, and it's exactly the same one General Motors has with its Cadillac brand: both are second-tier afterthoughts. That is, neither Lincoln nor Cadillac have product lines and dealer networks on a par with top-tier premium brands like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Lexus and Infiniti.

Here in the Big Apple, the latest news is all about the renaissance of Lincoln. (For the record, GM has been resurrecting Cadillac for about 14 years now; I've written so many "Renaissance of Caddy" stories I can't count them.) Centre stage is the new 2013 Lincoln MKZ.

We saw the concept version of this car in January, at the Detroit auto show. This time, we have the real deal, a production-ready model with an optional panoramic retractable glass roof.

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The new MKZ will be offered with three powertrains, too: a 240-horsepower EcoBoost 2.0-litre four-cylinder, a 300-horsepower 3.7-litre V-6 and a hybrid system based on the 2.0-litre power plant. The MKZ Hybrid will become available later in the year.

The plan for resurrecting Lincoln also includes new customer service initiatives designed to make buyers feel special, and to help them understand their new vehicle in ways that eliminate confusion and misunderstanding about new technology and how to use it. We'll need to see how this all shakes out in Canada, but without standalone Lincoln dealers, it's hard to imagine exactly how Ford of Canada will manage to give Lincoln the right upscale touch.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem facing both Lincoln and Cadillac in Canada. The top-tier luxury brands all have their own exclusive dealers. You want a BMW, you go to a BMW store; you want an Audi, it's sold at an Audi store. You want a Mercedes, go to a Mercedes store. Same for Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.

But if you want a Lincoln in Canada, you buy it at a Ford store with a Lincoln sign. You want a Caddy, it's sold through a GM dealership. No matter how good the MKZ is – and it looks pretty good – it won't be a full luxury contender until Ford of Canada figures out how to make Lincoln exclusive in Canada. That means exclusive dealers.

The problem is, in an effort to cut costs, Ford of Canada did away with standalone Lincoln dealers more than a decade ago.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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