Introducing the New Old Lincoln Continental

(AP photo)

(AP photo)

At long last, Ford is trying for real to reinvigorate the Lincoln nameplate:

For Ford Motor’s new chief executive, Mark Fields, reviving the Lincoln division is one of the last pieces of unfinished business handed to him by his predecessor, Alan Mulally. Under Mulally’s eight-year reign, the company sold most of its luxury brands — Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin — and killed Mercury, pouring virtually all of its resources into strengthening the namesake Ford brand around the world.

Starved of resources, Lincoln somehow hobbled along, selling tarted-up versions of Ford models. But without worthy offerings to match those offered by Lexus , Mercedes and BMW, Lincoln largely missed out on the explosion of worldwide demand for luxury vehicles. In 2013, Lincoln sold fewer than 82,000 units, compared to well over 300,000 for the big foreign luxury brands.

It’s been a long time since there’s been a genuine American luxury sedan. Cadillac moved to econobox-like front-wheel drive back in the ’90s and tried to claim in their print ads that it was Stuttgart who had the problem. Lincoln spent the last ten years trying to sell bloated crossovers with chromed-up whale’s mouth grills up front, and pizza-sized chrome nameplates around back.

Cadillac has been making a good-faith effort with the CTS lineup, which competes with nearly the best the Germans have to offer. But for every CTS there’s a pseudo-luxurious ATS and XTS — bad attempts at aping BMW’s 3- and 7-series, again with econobox/family sedan front-wheel drivetrains. The ATX and XTS might look like luxury cars, but I’ll never believe that “luxury” and “FWD torque steer” can coexist. Driving with all the appointments, effortlessly directing big power to the rear tires — that’s luxury.

There’s a lot riding on Cadillac and Lincoln’s genuine luxury efforts, because if it hadn’t been for SUVs, both brands would likely have died in the ’90s.

The concept Continental at least looks the part of a luxury sedan. It makes me think of Bentley on the front end, Mercedes S-class around the greenhouse, and Maybach on the rear end. (You can see the hindquarter in the Forbes link above.) Hopefully Lincoln will tighten up the rear before it goes into production, because the Maybach was so ugly, not even Mercedes could sell the thing.

Then again, we here in America are only a part, maybe only a small part, of the new Continental’s target market — or Cadi’s either:

Mr. Fields said China will probably be Lincoln’s biggest market by 2020, a date by which he hopes to sell 300,000 Lincolns annually throughout the world, tripling today’s volumes. Lincoln officials declined to provide sales numbers because they are just getting started in the Chinese market.

Cadillac sold 73,000 cars in China last year. To gain a foothold in China, Cadillac has used its large XTS sedan, which represented 45% of Cadillac’s 2014 sales in the country. Mr. de Nysschen said more luxurious and capable offerings are needed if the brand is to be taken seriously.

It’s a shame, really, when American luxury sedans are no longer designed and built for American buyers.

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