Some words are harder to say than others.
So long, farewell, adieu: This week has seen a lot of fervid happenings in the land of the free / home of the brave, but one which perhaps got lost amid the signal and noise of that election was the official cessation of Lincoln Continental production – which has either already ceased or is scheduled to do so later this month – depending on where one obtains one’s news.
The current model ended up as something of a damp squib, victim it seems of the US customer’s disillusionment with the sedan format. Debate continues around the validity of that latter statement. Some suggest the customer migration to trucks and SUVs was an inevitability, while others believe it was consequence of the deliberate action of the carmakers themselves. But in this, as with so much else nowadays, a range of (strongly held and often heated) opinions are available.
What’s perhaps easier to coalesce around is the assertion that Ford and its rival US carmakers have for too long built saloons which failed to enthuse the customer over the past number of decades – some of whom happened to be graced with the Continental nameplate. So when Dearborn elected to resurrect the model line in 2016 (after a lengthy hiatus), not only had that particular quadruped already bolted, but in order to make the attempt stick in the first place, a more convincing proposition really ought to have been proffered.
Instead, the 2016 ‘Conti not only bore a mildly embarrassing resemblance to a number of other imported luxury saloons, (although it’s unclear as to whether this helped or hindered) it also failed to adequately mask its Fusion/ Mondeo genes. And while a sizeable number of previous Continental incumbents were also derived from lowlier model architectures from within the blue oval firmament, such a half-hearted attempt was asking for trouble when sales of saloons were already dropping like mayflies.
It’s something of a catch-22 really. Ford couldn’t justify the expense of developing a credible stand-alone Continental-branded offering, (2019’s somewhat pointless anniversary Coach Door LWB edition notwithstanding), but its failure to do so, along with the eventual car’s perception of not being worth the outlay, leads us somewhat inevitably to this regrettable state of affairs. Sorry, what business case?
But this is hardly a problem facing Ford alone; the entire concept of an aspirational vehicle, which at one time doffed its proverbial hat to European and in particular French nostrums of perceived class and sophistication has long been upended in favour of, on the one hand, something more homegrown; more blue collar in spirit, more perhaps authentically American, while on the other, something more technology-laden and almost austere in its hyperfuturist sheen.
A lot has happened since the American sedan (itself something of an old world term) represented the ACME, and one gets a pungent sense that the traditional US automakers (and the blue oval in particular) remain at something of a loss to understand, not just this reversal, but their own broader loss of relevance* amid a changed and constantly shifting landscape.
The Continental nameplate has rested upon a number of quite disparate offerings over the course of its 80-odd year lifespan, and since FoMoCo seems increasingly reluctant to place the corporate badge upon its US offerings, perhaps we won’t have to wait all that long to witness its return. However, should this come to pass, it seems likely to grace the most profound change in architecture, format and (most likely) mode of propulsion in the nameplate’s long history.
A fully electric Lincoln-branded crossover remains a distinct likelihood we are told, so it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that the Continental might yet stage yet another return. But…
It’s worth reminding ourselves that there can be dignity in defeat. The art is knowing when to depart the stage. Now is good. Close the door on your way out.
*Not entirely a matter exclusive to US automakers, I hasten to add.