Competing in the premium car segment today doesn’t just require an exceptional product, but exceptional service to match. When the players are BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, and Cadillac, you better bring your A game. So when I came across a post on Autoblog regarding demands by Ford to Lincoln dealers, my immediate response was to slap my forehead in disbelief.
If you hadn’t noticed, the majority of Ford dealerships also sell Lincolns. Keeping that in mind, this is what Ford would like to see at all Lincoln dealerships offer their customers for 2011:
1. A car washed at every service.
2. Loaner cars available.
3. A dedicated service manager and sales staff.
Excuse me? In 2011, this needs to be spelled out to an established luxury car brand? And worse, you mean this isn’t already happening? Twenty two years ago, Toyota had never tried to sell a luxury car in America, but offering premium service to match the car was present from the first day Lexus automobiles went on sale here. And Ford is just now realizing this with Lincoln, a brand they have owned for 89 years?
When Lexus and Infiniti barged their way into the luxury car market over two decades ago, they changed the game in how their customers were treated. Taking care of the customer, and no-excuses service was the order of the day, and remains so today. A buyer stepping into a dealership looking for a $50,000 luxury sedan has every right to demand a salesperson who knows not just the product, but how to serve that customer. The salesperson who is at home selling a Ford Focus to whoever walks in the door may not be equipped for the buyer who is cross-shopping a Lincoln MKS with a Mercedes E-Class.
Again, this is astonishing since the failure of the Merkur brand (luxury Ford imports from Europe) in the 1980’s was blamed on an inept dealer network. But what truly staggers the mind is Ford’s seeming inability to make the Lincoln brand the crown jewel of Ford Motor Company-the epitome and grandest expression of what the company is capable of producing. Lincoln certainly does not build bad cars, but let’s face facts-when the car mags do a comparison test with the BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class, and Cadillac CTS, no one even invites the Lincoln MKZ along. That is not by accident.
For a company that has proved an American car company can provide a good, subcompact car in the Fiesta, create a Mustang so impressive that GM and Chrysler had to respond with new Camaros and Challengers, and a Taurus to be proud of again, I cannot understand why building a luxury car that can not only match Cadillac but what the best the world has to offer is such an elusive target for Ford.
Meeting the most basic expectations of a luxury car buyer is a start, but you have to have a full product portfolio to match it Ford. There is still much work to be done.