Blowing in the Wind

A mid-decade blow-in from the US prompts some blue oval-based soul-searching.

(c) automobilemag

The car which was once so dominant that it came to embody an entire socio-demographic UK class is fading from sight. The decline of the Ford Mondeo signifies a number of things, but perhaps primarily that this, coupled with the recent withdrawal of the Edge SUV from UK market (owing to a lack of buyer interest) illustrates most starkly the upper limits of brand-Ford in 2019.

For clarity, I enclose the following sales figures. Last year the Mondeo racked up sales of 49,596 cars across the entire European region, while this year to July, 25,125 found new homes, suggesting that the model line will struggle to break the 40,000 mark by year’s end. As we know, it arrived late and wasn’t greeted as a prodigal son when it did, but given Ford’s well publicised European challenges, this doesn’t augur well for their ambition to regain a profitable European business.

Among the efforts made to arrest their sales decline and to shift transaction prices upwards, Ford’s European arm have been engaged in what might charitably be described as a ‘trim enhancement programme’ under the Vignale nameplate. But it doesn’t appear to have met with much success here in Blighty – Mondeos of any stripe proving a rare sight, placing the Vignale version firmly in hen’s teeth territory.

But did it have to come to this? The reason for this preamble relates to a sighting earlier this week, which for your correspondent at least, represented a first. In North West London suburban traffic, a circa-2014-2016 Lincoln MKZ swept past and dear reader, I was rather taken.

2015 Lincoln MKZ

For those of you unfamiliar with this model line, the MKZ can trace its lineage to the 2005 Zephyr model. This was schemed as a post-PAG replacement for the unsuccessful Lincoln LS, which as we all know shared a good deal of its underwear with Jaguar’s unloved S-Type. The Zephyr was based on the contemporary front-wheel drive Ford Fusion platform, which lent it a stronger business case and Dearborn much needed economies of scale denied them with the X200/ DEW98 debacle.

The model to which I allude however was first introduced in 2013, (by now having gained the rather silly MKZ moniker), based on the current Fusion/ Mondeo platform and bodyshell, albeit, with its own quite distinctive sheet metal. While the exterior design, allegedly attributed to Max Wolff, (sayeth the internet) retained the donor Fusion’s sheer bodysides, there was a good deal more visual interest both fore and aft, not to mention considerably more upmarket tinsel.

Featuring styling cues which referenced the Lincoln models of the 1940s – notably the grille design – and a sweeping, more elegant tail treatment, the MKZ, while not quite entirely masking its Fusion bones, nevertheless left a more positive impression than its lowlier sibling. Cabin architecture was broadly the same, albeit with plusher materials, more standard equipment and a wider array of trim and specification enhancements.

Powertrains too were broadly shared; the inevitable 240 bhp EcoBoost turbo four, a 3.7 litre, 300 bhp V6 and an EcoBoost-derived hybrid model with 188 bhp, but considerably enhanced economy figures. As one might expect, the MKZ reportedly majored on comfort and ease of driving, with accurate control responses and a relaxed, somewhat languid demeanour, akin to that of its Buick Lacrosse and Lexus ES rivals.

What I saw (fleetingly) was a car of elegance and distinction, quite unlike its lumpen light-averse Mondeo cousin and it led me to wonder, if not for the first time, whether Ford’s European image-related issues could perhaps have at least partially been salved had Lincoln been introduced to the old World as its upmarket line?

Here in the UK, people once aspired to Ford ownership, owing to there being a broad range of attractive designs and a clear, delineated hierarchical ladder upon which the buyer could ascend. Expectations of course were lower then and the premium marques had an exclusivity to defend. But neither the times, nor the mores are what they once were.

Ford, for more than a quarter-century, has (in this writer’s opinion), scandalously neglected the Lincoln division; latterly collateral damage from the messy divorce which took place when they divested themselves of the PAG marques. It’s possible that had the blue oval intelligently invested in Lincoln over the intervening decade, the division could now be a major profit centre, given the manner in which upmarket nameplates have come to predominate.

But having placed most of their eggs in the truck market’s load-bay, it finally appears that the realisation has dawned at Dearborn’s Glass House, which has seen real, if sorely belated investment in new Lincoln product lines. The latest SUV models in particular, appear to be well styled, credible luxury vehicles, even if the saloon equivalents remain something of a work in progress.

(c) newcars.com

Even the ill-considered and confusing model naming system is in the process of being ditched, with names from the marque’s back catalogue being reinstated. All welcome developments, but by heavens, it’s arrived late in the day. Too late some might suggest. Certainly so for Ford to consider launching Lincoln on this side of the Atlantic now, but while a car like the MKZ might have proven to have been merely something of a minority interest, it was at least, interesting.

But to return to the problem at hand. As Mondeo loses what small appeal it still holds, how is the blue oval to prevent itself becoming, like Fiat, simply a purveyor of small to medium cars and crossovers in the European market, with all that entails for transaction prices and therefore, profit? It’s going to require creative solutions, and good ones at that. But what we’re currently seeing from Mr. Jim Farley and his associates shows little sign of that.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

24 thoughts on “Blowing in the Wind”

  1. I think latest conti has missed the mark v CT6 (and as that latter is on the way out, how long before Lincoln also abandons its flagship?). No v8, no hybrid (!), a little too compact, ride not as focussed as chez Cadillac, a front side profile that reminds me of 2007 S80 and the controversy with Bentley don’t help. Door handles, yes, great. Missed the mark.

  2. As it’s pouring down and the ironing can wait, I’ve just specced up a brand new and previously unheard of to me, MKZ. Silly name aside, it’s a likeable sedan. I went basic model, 2.0 litre engine, front wheel drive although I could’ve had a four-wheel drive or jumped into a hybrid. In Crystal Copper with a cappuccino leather interior makes for a smart choice. All for $37000 or in old English £30k. However, does 20mpg for city and 31 on the freeway sound reasonable? The hybrid can muster 42 at a push according to their website.
    Reasoning that Lincoln sponsors golf competitions in the states as one can purchase many golf related products in their merchandise section along with a nice pen or six. Golf towel, anyone? A Lincoln Logo-Ed wine decanter for $200? I would imagine they sell about as many of these as they do Mondeo”s here in the UK, now.
    And naturally, Lincoln open their website with shiny SUV’s, Crossovers; the sedan is relegated further down the list. Just like in real life, where once Mondeo man was king, now he’s languishing on the fringe of town, forgotten, unloved. I can’t recall seeing a new Mondeo for ages. That hierarchical ladder from Fiesta to Focus to Mondeo was easy once upon a time. But around me it appears to be German all the way with some Czech and French stragglers picking up the crumbs.

    1. Remember that US gallons are smaller than UK gallons. And the testing regime is different.

      Add 20% to get a rough approximation of fuel economy rates that translate to UK figures.

  3. On the subject of the Mondeo in the UK, seem to recall (via the Mondeo episode on the Grand Tour) it was due to changes in company car / fleet market regulations which were the catalyst for the decline of the Mondeo under Tony Blair though not sure what year the changes happened nor of the specific law in question.

  4. I discovered the MKZ on YouTube a few weeks ago and it has its attractions. Being a fan of sunroofs, I was particularly taken with the one fitted to this car which is the biggest glass sliding roof on any car so that it overhangs the rear screen when fully open. If I lived in the states or Georgia (where hybrids have significant tax advantages) I’d buy one.

  5. It would indeed have been interesting to see how Lincoln might have fared in Europe, but Ford probably took a look at GM’s many ill-starred attempts with Cadillac and drew the right conclusion.

    1. Perhaps the idea might have been to sell the Lincoln instead of the Mondeo.
      While I am always fond of Opel´s entrants in the C-D market, I must admit that the current Mondeo is growing on me. Like the Insignia, it is bloody huge though. Leaving aside all the other details about branding and tax regulation, a simple fact might be that there are not enough consumers prepared to have a 5 metre car on their drive even if they could afford one. I for one never buy Coke in 1.5 litre bottles and I generally avoid the 330 ml cans but if there was a 75 ml can for near the same price as the 330 ml can I´d have that. That´s all I want. And by the same token, maybe Ford and Opel miss something by not selling the very best 4.6 metre saloon/hatch they can. And cut 5% off the width as well. They don´t though. They offer you S-Max and Zafira and Mondeo and Insignia once you´ve decided a Focus or Astra hatch is not grand enough. I don´t really want something that big, nice and all as both cars are.

      By the way, for Irish people of a certain age, Lincoln is a name associated with a US president and also a dimpled biscuit of dubious merit.

    2. Ah, Jacobs Lincoln biscuits…I remember them well. Were they peculiar to Ireland?

    3. Lincoln seem to be a class of shortbread biscuit. They exist in other places. However, they are thriving in Ireland. I don´t know why. They aren´t up to much. And they are made with palm oil so they are a double no-no.

    4. Indeed it would have been interesting, especially if both Ford and GM established post-war European divisions of Lincoln and Cadillac respectively with their own unique platforms and engines better catering to this part of the world as opposed to merely importing US Lincolns and Cadillacs across the Atlantic.

      Not sure sure how Ford would have gone about establishing a Lincoln of Europe division in terms of more sophisticated platforms and engines to take the fight to Europe’s best luxury marques. They needed something much better than the Cologne/Essex V6s and Windsor V8s.

      For GM however it is relatively easy to see via an earlier implemented Vauxhall-Opel-Holden (VOH) interchangeability and later TASC programmes, with the Opel KAD (Kapitän, Admiral, Diplomat) platforms forming the basis of a range-topping European Cadillac that later features a production version of the Vauxhall Slant-Four based V8 prototype engine. One which could have potentially displace 4558cc via 2279cc Slant-Four up to 4780cc+ via proposed 2390cc Slant-Four (to as low as 3198cc via 1599cc or even below), not forgetting the motorsport focused 2.5-2.6-litre Vauxhall Slant-Fours suggesting potential enlargement to 5-litres – 5.2-litres.

      For a smaller 6-cylinder engine – a form of Pontiac 6-OHC could have initially formed a suitable basis for a European-sized 6-cylinder engine since it was derived from the Chevrolet Straight-6, which itself spawned the Chevrolet 153 4-cylinder that in South Africa displaced as low as 1960cc (equating to a 2940cc 6-cylinder potentially putting out around 129-168+ hp). Or either a Euro-sized Buick V6, Opel CIH 6-cylinder, earlier GM 60-degree V6 or hypothetical 90-degree Vauxhall V6 (derived from Slant-Four derived Vauxhall V8 prototype).

    5. At the risk of this becoming another biscuit-related hijack situation, I remember Lincoln biscuits well from my childhood from (if memory serves) the USA Assortment one tended to get at Christmastime. They were always amongst the last left in the tin, owing to their comparatively penitential nature. I haven’t seen one in decades, but must assume someone likes them.

    6. For the benefit of DTW’s non-Irish readership, here’s what Eóin is talking about:

      Times were indeed hard in 1960’s and 70’s Ireland.

  6. There were two even smaller four cylinder derivatives of the GM pushrod straight six:

    Holden Starfire: Based on the 2.85 litre version of the “Red” in-line six. 1897cc (88.9mm x 76.2mm, or 3.5″ x 3.0″ Imperially). Used in the Sunbird (née Torana), and some NZ-market Commodores.

    GM Argentina 110. Derived from Chevrolet 194 produced locally for the Chevrolet 400. 1797cc. Used in the 1974-78 Opel K-180. Sounds like a recipe for an Argentinian Marina 1.8, but the car it powered was the nation’s best seller for most of its production life.

    1. Read the “Red” Holden Straight-6 that formed the basis for the Holden Starfire was completely unrelated to Chevrolet Straight-6, however it is interesting to note the 86 hp 1797cc GM Argentina 110 if indeed related to the Chevrolet Straight-6 equates to a inline-6 displacing 2.7-litres (meaning it was within GM’s capability to develop a Pontiac 6-OHC derived Euro-sized 6-cylinder displacing around 2.7-3-litres).

  7. I’m now compelled to check out the Irish foods section of my local supermarket for Lincoln biscuits. I’ve checked the zone before and was most impressed at the unhealthiness of what was on offer, excepting the small bags of Flavahan’s oatmeal.

    Liepedia confirms the biscuits were mainly for viewers in Ireland, although it notes that “In Argentina, Kraft Foods produces Galletitas Lincoln, rectangular Lincoln biscuits with the familiar dot pattern, under the Terrabusi brand name. They are ubiquitous.”

    All roads seem to be leading to Argentina tonight…

    1. At last, on the pretext of nipping out for a case of stout, I’ve investigated the Irish section of my local supermarket.

      The college suburb where I live is something of a ghetto for expat Irish professionals who would probably prefer their neighbours to think they had poncier palates, but secretly yearn for familiar tastes from their childhood on the Ould Sod.

      What I found was an embarrassment of riches for those in the thrall of Biscuits With The Same Names As Cars:

      Was there someone in Boland’s who had a thing about BMC/BLMC Australia products?

    2. Eóin, have you ever been subjected to the dubious pleasures of the homemade Rich Tea sandwich? Two Rich Tea biscuits, one smeared thickly with Kerrygold butter, pressed together until the butter oozes out the little holes in each biscuit. That’s what passed for a treat when I was a child.

  8. Ford’s real problem in Europe is that they’re being squeezed in a two-pronged pincer movement. They’re under assault from one direction by the “premium” makes (and I carefully use those inverted commas) hailing from Germany and from the other from those “non premium” makes hailing from not-Germany. The Mondeo’s specific problem is that it’s a large, four/five door non-premium car and the tide is going out for them. See Opel Insignia, Toyota Avensis, Honda Accord and others. Ford should have had that problem sorted with some kind of on-trend CUV type thingy but unfortunately the alternative to the ordinary Mondeo was the S Max/Galaxy and they’re people carriers, another niche which has found itself high and dry. They thought the Edge was the answer, but not at that price and not with five seats. They still think the Edge might be the answer, but not until the next model, supposedly a seven seater, arrives.
    But to return to something closer to the topic. Ford, in those countries which drive on the same side of the road as in Detroit, offer the Explorer. It’s a Ford but it’s also sold as the Lincoln Aviator. So, Lincoln are arriving, in a manner of speaking.

  9. I wonder when the demise of the middleclass Ford started. When the Sierra went out of production resale values plummeted so fast here that even Ford dealers only wanted it as trade in for a 3 figure amount, the first number usually being a 1. For perfectly decent cars. Not sure if the Taunus/Cortina had the same issue.

    I can’t recall when I last saw a Mondeo. Sale figures are poor, but the thing looks so hopelessly generic that even when I stumbled upon one, it wouldn’t make an impression. I have a 200 kilometer car journey coming up in a few hours, so I’ll look out for one.

    1. Breaking news: I spotted plenty of Fiestas and a few Focus models, but it took 162 kilometers of driving before I saw a Mondeo. It was a blue 4 door of the current generation. Twelve kilometers later I spotted the only other Mondeo: a silver previous generation wagon.

    2. The Fusion (US equivalent to the Mondeo) is everywhere, almost to the point of invisibility amongst equivalent Toyotas, Hyundais and Kias etc. but I haven’t seen a single estate version.

      Alfa Romeo update: I’ve seen three Giulias and one Stelvio in three weeks: not encouraging. Bizarrely, I’ve seen more Maseratis and am looking at one now as I type this.

  10. A particular, and peculiar way (but perhaps a credible one nevertheless) to look at the reasons behind the sharp heterogenization of Ford’s model range, might be the range-wide implementation of the so-called
    ‘Aston grille treatment’.

    This textbook example of kitsch (which, to be fair, was started off first by the Italians, with the Grande Punto borrowing a Maserati grille, which probably, in turn, tempted Ford to follow suit), seems to have worked for Ford’s sales in a seemingly direct proportion to the target age-group in question:

    With younger buyers (Fiesta) it obviously helped sales no end.

    With middle-aged Focus buyers, it helps moving what has become (in the Mk3) a oversized, segment-overstepping car with undeniable charms,
    yet a compromised practicality due to overly bulky footprint
    for urban usage.

    As we move upscale to the Mondeo, the almost faux-looking Aston
    treatment – esp. on the current-gen Mondeo, which is, apart from its
    dubious looking front end, a rather likeable yacht of a car (Richard is fully right in his observation on the size of it) – obviously deters the traditional Mondeo buyers, as the sales figures no doubt suggest (where they are exactly steered instead, though, remains a mystery to me, although
    the Volvo showrooms might be a good bet).

    If the above ‘blame-the-grills’ thinking proves even marginally justified, it might bring into focus (faux pun) a certain interesting link that might interonnect the trends at both Ford and Fiat. It might also reinforce
    a certain old, unwritten rule (obviously misinterpreted to an extent)
    that the grille/front end appearance is definitely a crucial part of
    a brand’s identity that’s not to be played with, so to speak.
    One might argue that it’s a very powerful phenomenon, that probably relies on certain subliminal, irrational mechanisms which can palpably influence the commercial identification of the buyer to a certain brand.

    Food for thought etc.

    To me, Mondeo Mk3 was indeed a properly sized car, with just the rightly judged amount of ‘only slightly opulent’, and without the width/height excesses of the current Fusion-based Mk4, which is clearly sized for overseas, American urban landscapes.

    It’s really sad for me to see the commercial demise of the Mondeo, as it was probably the only one of the properly comfy & safe cars, that had significant reserves of perceived robustness, simplicity and reliability – I’d reckon those were, for many people, a crucial argument for their purchase decision, that somehow counterweighted the peculiar
    socially-economic image that burdened the model in some
    markets, most notably UK.

    .

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