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Old 06-25-2002, 01:06   #1 (permalink)
Mr. Embargo
 
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Embargoland
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Ford focuses on the fidgety set

Peter Brieger
National Post


Monday, June 24, 2002

Ford asked "Town Car Executives" -- seniors -- to suggest improvements.

When Ford Motor Co. redesigned its luxury flagship Lincoln Town Car, it added a giant trunk, two speedometers, and stand-up hood ornament, which doubles as a parking target.

Not surprisingly, Ford got the idea from focus groups, but not Generation X and Generation Y types -- the young, trendy buyers obsessed with sleek styling. It went to the great mass of forgotten trendsetters: seniors.

Who better than the seniors, dubbed the "Town Car Executive" by Ford, to suggest improvements, said Jeff Ziegler, Town Car's chief program engineer.

"The Town Car executives know exactly what they like about the car and where it can be improved," he said. "They held our feet to the fire to deliver the changes that mattered most to them."

Ford also realized that with a price tag of more than $55,000, Town Car buyers were not willing to sacrifice comfort.

Indeed, Ford's luxury tank also has a new frame, improved airbags, 20% larger gloveboxes, 60% brighter headlamps, plus extra leg and hip room apparently superior to that of the Cadillac DeVille and Lexus LS430.

For those with Coke-bottle glasses, the car's speedometers come with a regular and digital version for better visibility. The digital feature can also be programmed in English or metric units to make travelling between Canada and the United States a snap.

So Ford also installed eight way power adjustable seats and power lumbar support for those septuagenarians with bad backs.

In a panic stop, a new brake feature automatically supplies full braking power even if the driver can't put enough pressure on the pedal to start the anti-lock braking system.

Focusing on what buyers want is the reason Town Car customers are loyal. Repeat buyers account for more than half of new clientele, the company says.

Such loyalty is crucial as the carmaker tries to revitalize the brand by broadening its appeal to a younger generation with such offerings as the Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle and soon-to-be released Lincoln Aviator.

Lincoln sales in the key U.S. market were down 23% in May from a year ago while year-to-date sales fell 16.6% to 58,402 from 70,032 a year earlier.

Christian Nadeau, Lincoln's brand manager in Oakville, Ont., said the challenge is to win over a wider customer base while keeping older buyers.

However, that may be tough since the market for Lincoln's Town Car continues to shrink, according to Matt Collins, an auto analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis, Mo. "The real problem is the younger generation couldn't care less about Lincoln," he said. "There is no loyalty in the younger generation."
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