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Old 09-24-2004, 05:58   #1 (permalink)
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US:Ford aggressively targets luxury truck market with '06 Mark LT

Ford aggressively targets luxury truck market with '06 Mark LT

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News



The 2006 Mark LT, Lincoln’s second attempt in four years to create a new niche in the luxury vehicle market, will be priced in the low- to mid-$40,000 range, the automaker announced.

Aggressive pricing, plus the pickup’s payload capacity and towing capability, is expected to help Ford Motor Co.’s domestic luxury brand capitalize on America’s love of trucks. The Mark LT should also help heal a self-inflicted wound Lincoln suffered when it killed the Blackwood pickup shortly after production began in 2002.

The Blackwood, based on the underpinnings of Ford’s previous-generation Super Duty pickup, sold just over 3,200 units, despite projections that called for annual deliveries in the 8,000 range. In addition to manufacturing miscues, its shortcomings included a covered cargo bed that couldn’t handle tall loads, and the lack of four-wheel-drive capability.

“The Blackwood was not a usable vehicle,” said Ken Fields, new car sales director at Regency Lincoln Mercury in Mesquite, Tex. – the heart of truck country. The Mark LT, Fields added, “is for a guy who likes driving a pickup and wants to drive something nice that he can actually use.”

The Mark LT is based on Ford’s hot-selling F-150 pickup. It features liberal use of chrome accents, inside and out, to give it an upscale look.

“It’s for consumers who appreciate recognition and look for new ways to express their personal style,” said Darryl Hazel, Lincoln Mercury president.

A January production launch is planned, with showroom deliveries scheduled for February. It will be assembled at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant, right beside the F-150.

Preliminary production estimates called for annual volumes in the range of 15,000 units, but the automaker expects demand will require the plant to churn out about 20,000.

“As long as they don’t price themselves out of the market, I think it will be fine,” Fields said, noting Blackwood started at $53,000.

Hazel, who confirmed Mark LT’s base sticker range Thursday at the State Fair of Texas, is expected to make pricing official during January’s Detroit auto show.

The truck is a key part of a plan to populate Lincoln showrooms with new vehicles. Within the next four years, Lincoln and Mercury promises 11 new vehicles in six new segments – and five of the vehicles will be Lincolns.

Dealer-level interest increased in the Mark LT has increased in the last few weeks, Fields said, adding most prospective customers are Lincoln loyalists or fans of trucks in general. And they’re overwhelmingly male.

“I haven’t heard any interest from the ladies,” he said.

America’s love affair with trucks began to heat up in the late 1990s, with trucks outselling cars for the first time in 2001 – 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent, according to industry data tracker WardsAuto.com. The trend in favor of trucks continues to escalate, with truck sales accounting for 54.7 percent of new vehicle purchases through August.

Despite the odd pairing of luxury vehicle accoutrements and a pickup’s rugged frame, analysts are bullish about the Mark LT.

“There’s a buyer for it,” said Erich Merkle, senior auto analyst at IRN Inc. “It’s Lincoln’s attempt to counter what Cadillac’s doing.”

In model-year 2002, General Motors Corp.’s luxury brand introduced the Escalade EXT – a pickup based on the Chevrolet Suburban full-size sport utility vehicle. The EXT also features a fold-down midgate that increases the carrying capacity of its cargo bed.

But Merkle is skeptical of any Mark LT projections that are north of 20,000. “The Escalade has never hit those numbers,” he said.

The Cadillac Escalade EXT’s best results came during its first year on the market, when it sold just under 13,500 units.



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