Livin’ It Up

Quiet flight, by Lincoln.

Image: ablogtowatch.com

Softness: increasingly difficult to find in this harsh world. Interiors can cosset but can an entire car be defined as soft? Practically 2.3 tonnes of metal, glass, plastics and leather suggests otherwise, but Dearborn’s luxury arm begs to differ. Lincoln, until recently home to stately sedans have chosen to park that genre for vehicles of a physically larger nature – taking a more tender route – if one which only those in the US and selected regions can sample. 

In an ever-competitive luxury marketplace, the new for 2022 Aviator  sees Lincoln up the ante in a most restful manner. Aviator can be optioned with air glide suspension where the car bows to greet the driver or assist with loading – the area lit by what the maker dubs a welcome mat, along with headlights that greet your appearance. For such a well mannered and relaxing-natured car, should it surprise that the interior contains 28 speakers? If only perhaps to hear the fretboard’s movements or the singer catching their breath.

Lincoln’s design mantra of ‘Quiet Flight’ has been overseen by non-natives since 2014. Born in Croatia but raised in Germany, Kemal Curić has been involved with equipé-Ford from 2003. Having inputted upon Euro Fiesta, Mondeo and Kuga, Curić was headhunted across the Atlantic to helm the current generation Mustang before the calmer waters of Lincoln called, initially working alongside Design Director, David Woodhouse. His exterior design work on the final Continental gave way to the rarefied air of the Aviator, a seven seater sports utility. In 2019, following the Australian design director’s departure for Nissan, Curić inherited the top job.

Expanding on the ethos of Quiet Flight, Curić cites four pillars: Human, Beauty, Sanctuary and Gliding. Meeting the first requirement involves customer-focussed, intuitive technology, the second being visual seduction. Sanctuary is what the cabin affords through high end craftwork and materials. Dependant on trim level, those front seats can move in thirty directions. Attending safety chimes come courtesy of the Detroit Philharmonic, the centre console cheerfully minimalistic. The Gliding aspect relates to how any Lincoln should drive. “Similar to a marriage, we want you to enjoy this vehicle for years and appreciate what the vehicle affords you, inside and out”, Curić affirms.

According to Lincoln, Aviator taxies from Standard to Reserve then Grand Touring. There follows Flight, which takes inspiration from the skies – tan leathers, propeller type wheels, while Destination brings diamond weave seating alongside khaya mahogany in a manner which the carmaker believes, turns “travel into art”. Chalet meanwhile contrasts pulse-raising slopes with the comforts of an après-ski lodge. Whilst tempting to poke fun at such rhetoric, Lincoln does appear to be trying hard to soften those inevitable body blows against their competitors.

Divert your antagonism from the Aviator’s bulk to indulge the niceties. Curić points to “The face of the car, the grille is its ‘crown’. Human like eyes. The S shaped body curves show a human-centric, organic, almost sensual feel.” This car is no more aggressive than a cumulonimbus on a July afternoon – no mean feat.

Image: Lincoln.com

Journalists love to make connections between wristwatches and automobiles, as if one cannot survive without the other. Car designers too are anything but immune. So in a move which may incur previously metered wrath, within Aviator lies an horological link. Curić found inspiration from fellow Detroit-based fashion house, Shinola, makers of watches alongside other luxury goods. On a field trip to Shinola’s studio, Curić and his team referenced materials and colours leading to a collaboration resulting in the Lincoln Shinola Aviator Concept.

Externally, the concept is a soft white, inspired by the Shinola Pearl stone luxury watch faces and in certain lights conveys a bluish tinge. Areas linking bonnet and door are picked out in an almost rose gold copper effect, found on a Shinola bike seat, softening the metallic element, and contrasting the pearl. The wheels, too are treated to that rose gold effect – subtly lightening the load.

Inside, changes are more noticeable, with whiskey coloured leather surrounding creamy suede with a centrally placed watch strap line. Liam Butler, Lincoln’s colour and materials designer took a watch strap and scaled up the thread to match the car’s seating. And no matter the colour of the interior, Lincoln always introduce a subtle hint of blue to proceedings, a signature move – here, found in the seat piping, as one would also find on a Shinola duffel bag. Curiously though, save for the tablet screen, the dashboard contains no actual timepiece. 

Shinola interior detail. Image: ablogtowatch.com

The Lincoln Shinola made an appearance at the 2021 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance where many attendees asked to buy it. Lincoln politely informed the well-heeled that this was purely for show. But Curić suggests otherwise. “Cars have become much more than just A to B. With the new electrification trend, it’s a perfect time to blend the beauty and artisanship of the analogue with the ultra modern digital capabilities.” No doubt those keen on both brands may yet see a production fruition.

Image: Lincoln.com

But before we are overcome with soft palettes and cocoa-enhanced dreams, we must look to the cold hard facts. Lincoln have been subjected to a waning in both interest and perceived soul over the passing years, and currently make but four SUV type vehicles. Combined sales (via carsalesbase.com) for 2020 reveal that 105,410 ‘Illuminated Stars’ were sold, a market share of just 0.72%. Lincoln President, Joy Falotico sees Aviator as Lincoln’s “signal for take off.” With rivals such as old sweats, Cadillac, the Germans, and Japanese alongside newer threats from Korea and Silicon Valley, Lincoln may well have more to prove than an admittedly long heritage and delightfully superlative features in order to truly fly.

Not that the likes of us will find out, slumming it in our European take on luxury which often sails closer to millstones of convenience or over-verbose opulence. Shame, for an Aviator might just work here – ah, but for the (now slightly less soft) Range Rover[*].

[*] The new L460 now being a seven seater – an American market criticism of the previous version which JLR claimed lost them five sales per week to the competition.

Data sources: ablogtowatch.com, caranddriver.com, pebble beach concourse.net, Lincoln.com

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

22 thoughts on “Livin’ It Up”

  1. I find the interiors of modern Lincolns some of the most inviting to seat on.
    Plush, good looking, techy but not over the top (MB are you listening?)

    PS – was this post triggered by the Lincoln Lawyer? 🤔

    1. Good morning, everyone. I can only agree it. It’s not the sort of car I would want to own, but I think this is how an American luxury car interior should be right now.

  2. Good morning Andrew. Lincoln does seem to have found a rather nice styling theme for its current SUV models, the largest of which are the Aviator and Navigator:

    They still look ‘American’ (in a good way) but are not overly adorned with ‘expressive’ or ‘dynamic’ styling flourishes, most of which look entirely inappropriate on a big, boxy SUV. In the metal they look to be well put-together and really rather impressive.

    Incidentally, your piece prompted me to look at Lincoln’s website and I was amazed (but shouldn’t have been surprised) to see that Lincoln no longer offers a saloon of any sort, just four SUVs, the others being the smaller Nautilus and Corsair. (Great model names too).

    Incidentally, The Lincoln Lawyer, both the movie and Netflix series, are worth a look. In the latter, the protagonist drives a Navigator and a classic Lincoln convertible.

    1. I’m not going to watch the movie or the series if Mickey doesn’t drive a Town Car…

  3. Speaking of Ford, I read at AutoCropley that Ford Europe is cutting back planned Focus production. They´re selling 5000 a month not 10,000 but the Kuga is shifting 13,000 units. That´s it for the Focus, folks. It´ll go the way of the Mondeo and Scorpio. The new Focus is the Kuga. How are VW doing with their Golf?

    1. Yes – I saw that, as a headline. I’m not sure why they’re cutting back – whether it’s lack of demand, or because they can’t get the parts. I’m also not sure whether it’s just temporary.

      The Golf sold 309k units worldwide, last year, but the Tiguan (550k), Polo (450k) and Passat (420k) all sold more. I guess that the Passat figures will include substantially different versions across continents, though.

    2. Here in Portugal, the Golf isn’t doing well… Only this Sunday, I’ve seen one of the last gen for the first time…
      In the past, they were quickly everywhere after launch.

    3. Volkswagen sold 999 Golfs in the Netherlands in the first five months of 2022. For comparison: in 2015 they sold 21,593 for the entire years.

    4. I’d council against ascribing too much significance to sales figures in the current climate. They have always been something of a blunt tool anyway, but with the current difficulties they are even less representative than they were in the past. Having said that, it is clear that a re-alignment is taking place in the C-segment. The interesting question is perhaps just how quickly this shake-down will play out. For those like Ford who are keen to scale back their European expenditure, and the Focus platform will be an expensive one to engineer, it’s possible to see how Dearborn management may take this opportunity to spin the models demise going forward in favour of something more CUV-like, citing market forces as their rationale. For VW, one can see that the Golf simply isn’t the priority it was – hellbent as they are on besting the sainted Musk. Interesting times.

      Some additional reading…

      https://driventowrite.com/2020/02/05/vw-golf-demise-analysis/

  4. Hmm. Isn’t the Aviator just a tarted up Ford Explorer?

    Pity that you folks aren’t aware of the US idiomatic expression “doesn’t know the difference between shit and shinola.” Shinola used to be a brand of shoe polish.

    1. It does have a much nicer interior. That said, Lincoln isn´t much more than Ford´s Buick. And Cadillac is not much more than GM´s Buick while we´re here. Actual Buick is now a smarter Chevrolet.

    2. Fred: Some of us are and one would have to assume the creators of the brand in question were as well.

  5. Coming back to Ford’s strategy, Jim Farley, Ford’s Chief Executive has said that dealer standards are to be very much higher and dealers won’t hold any inventory. Sales will be online and delivery (and collections) will be direct to the customer.

    They want the money currently used in sales and distribution to be refocused on the aftersales experience. How will that work if people no longer go anywhere the dealer I don’t understand. Very attentive delivery drivers?

    They fear competition from the Chinese, but are to get rid of discounting / negotiations. I guess that would be justified through superb product and service experiences (?).

    1. You have to wonder eventually just what it takes to win the residuals war. That seems to be the key to gaining customers since leasing seems to be the main mode of sales. The other thing might be to find a way to end leasing´s dominance. What seems to have happened is that third parties have interposed themselves between the makers and the customers. Tug on that red thread and you wonder what makes leasing so attractive … That is a longer socio-economic discussion.

    2. Yes, that’s true. I’ve never thought dealers were a very good way of selling and servicing cars, because of the ‘distance’ / ‘third party’ issue. I understand why that sales method was adopted, though.

      I guess that manufacturers are willing / have to put up with third parties such as dealers and leasing companies as they have to produce at high volume to keep things economically viable. Really, it’s all mad and unsustainable.

      I’ve noticed that I’ve been receiving a lot more sales calls from dealers, which I take as a sign that things are already more difficult, even before the much advertised arrival of the supposed forthcoming recession and increased competition from China.

  6. It’s the finance companies / groups driving this. They’re the ones profiting more from the rise of leasing / renting.
    And of course, the sales person (associate ?) is keen to drive this as it gets him/her a a nice fee on every finance deal.

    1. One solution is for car companies to take over sales directly. Is that legal though? If I was Ford I´d like to sell directly to the customer and keep them close via service and maintenance. Does that change the dynamic of which colours and fabrics and vehicle types will be sold most? My insights on this are courtesy of Christopher B (who reminded me recently of this leasing lark – I keep forgetting it). Any misapprehensions are purely my fault, note.

    2. Yes, it’s legal – M-B already do it to some extent, and other manufacturers are moving to what they call an ‘agency’ model – the manufacturer selling directly, with the dealer just doing the logistics.

      Manufacturers would love to keep customers close, but looking after customers is, or has been, a costly and complicated business.

      Would who’s selling the vehicles mean changes in spec? Yes, very possibly, as one would assume that there would be a different focus, beyond just moving the metal. Or, at least, the focus would be to shift more highly-specified and colourful metal, possibly, with better customer retention. Many dealers haven’t been bothered about customer or staff retention – it was possible to plough through both, confident in the knowledge that another mug would be along in a minute. I think / hope those days have gone. I wonder what the Chinese selling approach will be.

  7. An interesting piece Andrew so thank you. On the outside it looks like a cross between a BMW X5 and a Range Rover to me, although the interior looks like a really nice place to be. Not sure about the numerous speakers and the seat movements either. Seems like I can do it so I will…
    Point to note on the discussion about Dealers in the UK. Three local to me in North Kent have closed down in the last week or so. All part of the same Group. Talking to a sales person yesterday in one that has survived the view is that there is little , if any profit, in selling cars at present. Owners are looking to redevelop the sites or sell them on. Manufacturers affected are MG – used to sell Mitsubishi, Renault / Dacia and Mazda. The nearest MB retailer closed over 2 years ago and the site is still vacant. Interesting I feel that CAZOO have just announced a reduction in their workforce to reduce costs as well. Maybe CINCH will follow?

  8. I have nothing to add to the Lincoln discussion, but was delighted at the title. In the first instance, the Bert Kaempfert tune, secondly its use in the title sequence for Kapitien Zeppos, a Flemish children’s TV series with a very surreal edge, which well deserves its enduring cult following.

    The good Kapitien was an SUV fan, albeit British and of an earlier era, and far more to my taste:

  9. I guess Lincoln is what DS Automobiles aspires to be like?

    Edit: I’ve been giving this some thought. I didn’t post this reply for over a week because I thought… well this is more tasteful than most “luxury SUVs” but the bar here is low, isn’t it? And then I wondered, if it is so refined, then surely a saloon based upon this theme could be great. And then I remembered there -is- a saloon, but it doesn’t support my hypothesis at all. (sad trombone, not that many reading this are likely to have access to the cars pictured below anyway, they’re exclusive to the Chinese market).

    It betrays shallowness, Lincoln’s design language is a very thin artifice laid atop -any- Ford. The Explorer/Expedition derived vehicles happen to avoid vulgarity because it would be quite hard to screw up what is literally a very plain two-box design. But the lack of substance here barely leaves a peg for Lincoln to hang its hat on. Range Rover need not be concerned.

    I’m not an expert on design, but I am almost certain that design is as much about form as graphics. The saloons pictured above betray Lincoln’s quietly tasteful design language to be entirely bereft of form. In that respect it’s almost exactly like DS Auto.

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