Ford Motor Co is developing a flagship, large sedan that harkens back to the Continental as part of its effort to overhaul the lagging Lincoln brand, two dealers briefed on the plans said on Monday.
Ford executives began meeting with about 900 representatives of 700 of its US Lincoln dealerships at its Dearborn, Michigan headquarters on Monday.
The meeting is part of an effort by Ford to revamp its Lincoln brand and make it a competitor with Lincoln brandleaders like Volkswagen AG's Audi and Mercedes by Daimler AG.
Under the plan to remake Lincoln, Ford has said it will roll out seven new or redesigned vehicles starting with the recently released 2011 MKX crossover.
The number 2 US automaker has not disclosed details about the other six products in the Lincoln pipeline or the timing of their release.
Ford spokesman Christian Bokich said dealers at Monday's meeting had been shown concept-stage images of some of the upcoming vehicles without discussion of details such as the size or the names of the vehicles under development.
Steve Kain, general manager of a Ford and Lincoln dealer in London, Kentucky, who was briefed on Monday's meeting, said he supported the idea of bringing back a Continental-inspired sedan.
Automakers generally closely guard the details of future vehicle launches from competitors. But in this case, Ford is looking to convince its 1,187 Lincoln dealers that it can revive the brand in part by attracting younger buyers with new vehicles and better standards for customer service.
In addition to reducing the number of Lincoln dealerships to improve the profitability of remaining stores, Ford wants its dealerships to invest in new facilities, it has said.
"There was a realistic tone presented tonight about where the brand is and where we want the brand to be," Bokich said.
Lincoln was a top-selling luxury brand in the United States until the 1990s, and the Continental sedans that date back to the late 1930s long had a special cachet for their distinctive styling and features. The Continental was dropped from the Lincoln line-up earlier this decade.
By 2009, Lincoln sales had dropped to just under 83,000 vehicles in the United States, less than half of the sales for luxury market leader, Lexus.
But because Lincoln had far more dealers than Toyota Motor Corp, the number of sales at the average Lincoln store was less than one-tenth the total for Lexus, crimping profitability for franchise operators.
Another problem, analysts said, is that Lincoln has struggled to attract younger buyers. The average buyer is almost 59 years old, compared to 48 for Audi, according to industry tracking site TrueCar.com
"The biggest problem is the brand identity itself. A lot of people have the image of the car that your grandpa owned," said TrueCar analyst Jesse Toprak.
Ford has sold off the Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo brands over the past few years to focus on its mass-market Ford brand. Under Chief Executive Alan Mulally, Ford also is cutting its Mercury brand this year to concentrate on rebuilding Lincoln.
Mulally said last week that Ford had neglected to invest in Lincoln when it had the stable of other luxury brands.
Now that the automaker is rolling out plans to re-establish the long-neglected brand, Mulally said Ford could take Lincoln into international markets within the next five years.
The Lincoln meeting comes at a time when investors and analysts are growing increasingly confident about the sustainability of Ford's turnaround under Mulally.
Ford shares closed up 4.7 per centon Monday near an eight-week high after brokerage Morgan Stanley urged investors to take an overweight position in the stock.
Morgan Stanley said it believed investors had underestimated Ford's earning power over the next five years.