Ford's Lincoln channels Ralph Lauren in latest luxury attempt

The Center Stage theme for Lincoln Black Label

The Center Stage theme for Lincoln Black Label includes Diamond-L perforated Alcantara accented with Foxfire color mesh on the seats and door panels. (Credit: Lincoln Motor Company)

Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln is introducing a set of premium interiors featuring materials with names such as “Venetian Leather” in an attempt to revamp the fading luxury brand and win back wealthy buyers.

Three optional interiors, to be marketed under the Black Label name, will go on sale late next year for the brand’s 2015 model year vehicles, Matt VanDyke, Lincoln’s director of global marketing, told reporters in Dearborn, Mich., Aug. 12. He declined to reveal the price of the three Black Label packages, dubbed Indulgence, Center Stage and Modern Heritage.

By outfitting its cars in Alcantara suede, “Truffle”- colored leather and other materials, Lincoln intends to attract affluent buyers who now opt for BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus luxury vehicles. Ford is spending $1 billion to revive Lincoln, where annual sales have fallen 65 percent since peaking in 1990 at 231,660. Ford is looking to three new models coming by 2016 to overcome Lincoln’s image as an airport shuttle for business travelers.


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“Some of those things help to enhance the revenue that they get per unit and build a perceived premium that may not be existent in the brand today,” Matthew Stover, a Boston-based auto analyst for Guggenheim Partners, said in a phone interview. “At the end of the day, it’s lipstick.”

Ford, based in Dearborn, unveiled the Black Label interiors Aug. 15 at the Concours d’Elegance classic car show in Pebble Beach, Calif., where Lincoln is one of the featured brands. They were shown on the MKZ sedan, which went on sale in January, and the MKC small sport-utility vehicle, scheduled to arrive in showrooms next year.

‘New Conversation’

“We really do see a new conversation coming on the horizon for the luxury automotive industry,” said Andy Georgescu, Lincoln’s product marketing manager.

Black Label features include a choice from three interior themes with high-end wood, suede and leather, as well as wheels with chrome inserts and five exclusive exterior paint colors, such as a “Notorious” blue hue. The label also will include a high-touch experience at dealerships, which VanDyke declined to describe. He said he expects 6 percent to 10 percent of Lincoln buyers to opt for the Black Label features.

VanDyke likened the option packages to BMW’s Individual or Mercedes-Benz’s Designo, top-tier premiums that Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Daimler AG offer to lure high-end buyers. The Black Label name evokes Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label and Black Label lines of high-end apparel. Lauren, a classic car collector, has been a consultant for Ford in the past on automotive design.

Lincoln Sales

Lincoln sales fell 7.6 percent this year through July to 45,207 vehicles.

Lincoln’s Black Label is a much-needed investment and an attempt for the brand to catch up to upscale competitors, Stover said. Ford’s luxury line still needs work, and Lincoln won’t turn around “overnight,” he said.

Black Label also will be rolled out in China when Lincoln starts sales there in 2014, VanDyke said. The interior design themes may be different and the Black Label name could be changed so it doesn’t conjure up images of the black market, he said.

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