Bike flexes its muscles
Debut of Lincoln-inspired motorcycle embodies division's future
BY ALEJANDRO BODIPO-MEMBA
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
David Coates / The Detroit News
A custom-made muscle bike, inspired by a new Lincoln luxury pickup truck and built by the stars of the Discovery Channel cable television hit "American Chopper," was an attention-grabbing hit at the North American International Auto Show Monday.
The leather-clad, mustachioed Paul Teutul Sr., owner of the famed Orange County Choppers Inc. in Montgomery N.Y., revved up the bike and the crowd as he rode a handcrafted Mark LT Chopper onto the floor amid blaring rock music and thunderous applause.
That was just what Ford Motor Co. was looking for on a day dedicated to introducing new luxury vehicles from Lincoln, Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar.
In the midst of losing $6.4 billion in 2001 and 2002, the company crafted a major cost-cutting plan to close plants and quickly introduce exciting new models, pledging to earn $7 billion before taxes in 2006.
While the automaker has made significant progress toward that goal, one-third of those profits are supposed to come from Lincoln and the Premier Auto Group, or the European luxury brands. That has investors worried because Lincoln and Jaguar have struggled with lackluster sales.
So bringing the frequently battling but undeniably talented cycle builders to Cobo Hall was a move calculated to grab attention and inject some energy into what company officials expect to be a bold new vision for its luxury models.
Joined by his sons, and show costars, Paul Jr. and Mike on the floor of Cobo Arena, the trio of motorcycle mechanics stood next to the Mark LT Chopper as camera flashbulbs lit up the dark. Adorned with the Lincoln logo on a dark metallic red finish with chrome "spinner" wheels, the bike will be featured on an upcoming episode of the popular television series.
"When designing the bike I wanted to give it a substantial stance to match the truck. So I went with a wide tank and lowered it by inverting the front end," said Paul Teutul Jr. "This is probably the classiest looking bike we've built at OCC."
It was an eye-catching companion for the 2006 Mark LT Pickup and the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr.
The Mark LT features a 5.4-liter Triton single overhead cam three-valve 300-horsepower V8 engine with standard four-speed automatic transmission. The luxury truck, which goes on sale in the spring, starts at $39,995.
It is Lincoln's first attempt to build a luxury pickup since the failed Blackwood, which Ford resisted calling a pickup and was killed in 2002. At the time, Lincoln expected to sell 10,000 Blackwood trucks a year but sold just over 3,500.
The Lincoln Zephyr, the first-ever entry-level luxury sedan, has a 3.0-liter Duratec dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transaxle. Putting out 210 horsepower and promising fuel economy in the high 20 m.p.g.-range, Zephyr will be in showrooms this fall.
Mercury, Lincoln's sister brand, also introduced its Meta One crossover concept vehicle. A production crossover is slated for 2007. The Meta One is being touted as the world's first clean-burning diesel hybrid partial zero emissions vehicle.
"At Lincoln Mercury we're well on our way to going from sales of 300,000 vehicles today to 500,000 by the end of the decade," said Darryl Hazel, president of Lincoln Mercury, who boasted that the division plans to launch 11 new models over the next four years. "Lincoln Mercury is back."
Later in the day, Ford's PAG presentation was equally energetic with introductions from Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar.
Focusing on so-called halo vehicles, which are designed to establish the image of a particular brand in hopes of drawing people to purchase a less-costly or more practical model in the lineup, Mark Fields, executive vice president of Ford of Europe and the Premier Auto Group, suggested Jaguar is poised for a turnaround year, despite difficulties in 2004.
"Clearly for PAG it's been a mixed year," Fields said. . "And the reason for that is that we have four businesses in various states of health."
Land Rover introduced two new Range Rover models. Both the 2006 Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport feature supercharged 4.2-liter V8 engines that pump out 305 and 390 horsepower, respectively. The luxury SUVs will be available this spring.
Stressing safety and the environment, the Volvo 3CC concept features a three-seat cockpit configuration and is powered by lithium batteries.
Jaguar showed the Advanced Lightweight Coupe concept. The next generation design is widely believed to become the successor to the XK Coupe. PAG executives hope that the Lightweight Coupe ushers in a new era for the troubled Jaguar brand.
Last year, PAG announced the shuttering of its Brown Lane assembly plant in Coventry, England and the elimination of 1,150 jobs at the financially struggling Jaguar unit, as well as of Ford's Formula One racing team.
Looking ahead to this year, Fields has said he doesn't expect any additional cuts and remains cautiously optimistic about the upcoming year.
"The Premier Automotive Group is greater than the sum of its parts," Fields said. "The underlying strength of our strategy is that we deliver clearly differentiated brands and products to the customer."