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Long Island Lincoln dealers join effort to restore division's cachet

Steve Weiss, at his Huntington dealership on Dec.

Steve Weiss, at his Huntington dealership on Dec. 30, 2014, is one of two Lincoln dealers on Long Island who will offer the new Black Label vehicles and service. Credit: Johnny Milano

Two Long Island Lincoln dealers are among 32 in six states who have signed up for a new effort by Ford's troubled luxury division to help restore its cachet and sales.

Ford-Lincoln of Huntington and Hassett Ford Lincoln in Wantagh have agreed to set aside a special sales area and to designate specific sales and service people for a new line of specially equipped Black Label vehicles, Lincoln executives said.

The cars and sport utility vehicles, which began arriving in showrooms this month, cost about $6,000 more than other Lincolns, which range in base price from $33,100 to $61,480. They are offered with unique exterior colors and interior trim materials and longer warranties.

"It raises the value of the franchise -- the value of the marque," Steve Weiss, owner of the Huntington Lincoln dealership, said of the new program. "It's what customers expect from a true luxury franchise."

Black Label cars also come with VIP services such as shop at home, pickup and delivery of cars for service and an annual detailing. The first two Black Label models are versions of the MKZ sedan and MKC compact SUV; other models are to follow.

The Black Label program is open to all 200 Lincoln dealers in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Michigan. "We expect to roll out the program nationally in mid-2015," said Paul Buchek, Lincoln's Michigan-based Black Label operations manager.

Weiss said his 12-by-12-foot shopping "studio," equipped with customer seating, materials samples and multimedia tools to customize a vehicle, should be operational by Jan. 12. His first Black Label model is on a truck and due any day, he said.

Black Label dealers also are permitted to designate a larger, 360-square-foot "gallery" with additional customer seating and a window through which a vehicle can be viewed. At Hassett Ford Lincoln, general manager Lou Evans said it plans a hybrid of the two, in size and other specifics, with completion scheduled for the spring.

Founded in 1917 and a Ford Motor Co. subsidiary since 1922, Lincoln has been noted for highly regarded vehicles like the Zephyr of the 1930s, and for decades' worth of Continentals, Marks and Town Cars. But, like General Motors' Cadillac division, it has suffered amid a wave of luxury import competitors.

"When you give up that customer, it takes a lot to bring him back," Weiss said of import converts. "It's not an easy task."

Although Lincoln sales were up 14 percent this year through November with the addition of the MKC, it had lost almost half its market share and sales volume in the decade that ended last year, leaving it with a 0.5 percent share nationally and sales of 81,694 vehicles.

In the nine-county area that includes Long Island, the five boroughs and Westchester and Rockland counties, only 3,319 new Lincolns were registered in the first 10 months of this year, compared with 23,530 for luxury market leader Mercedes-Benz. Cadillac did only a little better, at 5,355 vehicles.

Industry analysts say Lincoln continues to suffer also from the discontinuance of the Town Car after the 2011 model year, a large sedan that was especially popular with livery fleets.

Stephanie Brinley, senior auto analyst in the Southfield, Michigan office of the forecasting firm IHS, said she also believes Ford Motor Co. shortchanged the division on product during the years from 1999 to 2010 when it owned four other luxury brands -- Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin.

"I think, largely, consumers right now don't have a good sense of what Lincoln's image is," said Brinley. "The Black Label program will help that and so will building some better products."

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