Wednesday, April 1, 2015
2015 Lincoln Continental concept. Photos courtesy Ford Motor Company.
Lincoln hasn’t offered a Continental in its showrooms since the 2002 model year, and despite the promise of a retro-futuristic Continental shown at the 2002 Los Angeles Auto Show, the nameplate has been dormant since then. In an effort to revive sales in the United States (and spur sales in China), Lincoln has announced a new Continental concept, to be shown at the 2015 New York Auto Show and reportedly destined for dealerships next year.
The Continental name is a significant one for the Lincoln brand, and in years past represented the Blue Oval’s flagship luxury model. It was originally constructed in 1939 as a one-off vehicle for Edsel Ford. Interest among his friends convinced Ford to put the Continental into production. The war interrupted sales beginning in 1942, but the car returned in 1946 and remained in Lincoln’s lineup through 1948.
Continental returned as a stand-alone marque for the 1956 and 1957 model years, but reemerged under the Lincoln family umbrella in 1958 and remained in the product mix through the 1980 model year. The Continental’s seventh, eighth and ninth generations then took the model up to 2002, when declining demand sealed its fate.
Lincoln’s 2002 Continental concept.
Ironically, the 2002 Continental concept was well received by press and public alike. The model incorporated a unique blend of traditional styling (like its slab-sided look and rear suicide doors) and modern features (such as advanced lighting and a power-operated luggage tray), but was deemed too expensive to put into production. Display-only 2002 Continental concept models have sold at auction twice since then (at RM’s Monterey sale in 2010, for $56,000, and at RM’s Sam Pack sale in 2014, for $27,500), a further indication of the Continental’s lasting appeal.
Which brings us to the present day. Despite a serious infusion of cash from parent Ford, Lincoln remains a brand struggling for an identity, with cars whose three-letter names fail to resonate among luxury car shoppers. The Continental name still holds a considerable amount of value, particularly if applied to a range-topping model, but it’s unlikely that American consumers would buy enough units to make a new Continental a profitable venture. Factor in the Chinese market, which Lincoln entered in 2014, and a new Continental flagship begins to make more financial sense.
Debuting at this week’s New York Auto Show, the Continental concept features a few radical departures from conventional Lincoln-think. The oft-criticized wing-shaped grille is gone, replaced by a new design that will become the face of all future Lincoln models. The concept’s styling isn’t really derivative of anything else in the Ford portfolio today, which gives Lincoln a unique model all its own, assuming that the production version, due in 2016, remains true to the concept’s design. It’s even powered by a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V-6 that Ford insists will remain the exclusive property of the Lincoln brand.
Lincoln will rely on a blend of luxury and technology to sell the car both here and abroad. Rear seats are buckets, crafted from “Venetian leather” with “Alcantara touch points,” and, on certain models, a chauffeur button will move the front passenger seat forward, allowing the right rear seat, complete with footrest, to recline. Even upright, the rear seats are said to include 30-way adjustability, just the thing for occupants to check financial news from the tablet computer that rises out of the rear console, enjoy champagne from the onboard beverage chiller, or appreciate the concert-hall sound of the 19-speaker Revel Ultima audio system. Barefoot passengers will surely appreciate the thick wool carpeting, and to further emphasize its luxury leanings, satin is the headliner material of choice. These features may seem a bit over-the-top to U.S. luxury shoppers, but are necessary if Lincoln wants to compete as a luxury brand in China, where the market is already saturated with long-wheelbase luxury sedans from more established brands.
As for technology, headlamps will rely on a blend of LED and laser lighting, the Continental’s SPD “SmartGlass” roof can transition from clear to opaque at the press of a button, and its full-width taillamp features light-through-chrome technology (which, Lincoln admits, hasn’t yet been fully developed). Pushbutton door handles, called E-Latch by Lincoln, do away with more conventional (and less aerodynamic) units that would otherwise clutter the design.
It’s not yet clear whether the new Continental will be front-drive or rear-drive, but given the current absence of a suitable rear-drive platform in Ford’s portfolio, front drive with an all-wheel drive option is likely. Once on the market, the Continental will replace the Taurus-based MKS in the brand’s lineup, which likely means it will be offered in a variety of trim levels (and price points) to broaden its appeal.
Lincoln’s future expectations are ambitious: Despite selling less than 85,000 cars in 2014, it hopes to sell 300,000 units annually by 2020, and that won’t happen without new markets and new models. While a new Continental won’t be a high-volume offering, it may be just the halo car the brand needs for a revival.