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US:Lincoln looks for foothold in the pickup market - again - with upcoming Mark LT

Lincoln's Mark LT pickup goes on sale in the spring with a base price of $39,995.

Truck will debut during the Super Bowl

JAMIE LAREAU | Automotive News

Lincoln has a price list for its new Mark LT luxury pickup. It has a marketing campaign for the truck, which it will launch at the Super Bowl.

Now all the Mark LT needs, some critics suggest, is an audience.

"I'm not sure I understand a Lincoln pickup truck, period," says Gordon Wangers, president of AMCI, an automotive con******cy in Marina Del Rey, Calif. "After one failure, why would you come back with the same kind of product?"

Lincoln's first effort to market a pickup, the Blackwood, sold just 3,356 units.

The automaker pulled the truck from the market 15 months after it debuted in 2001. Wangers calls the Blackwood "the answer to the question nobody asked."

But Lincoln insists the 2006 Mark LT, which goes on sale next spring, will succeed where the Blackwood failed. Built on the platform of the redesigned Ford F-150, the Mark LT has a base price of $39,995, including destination charge. The Blackwood, by contrast, sold for $52,500.

Lincoln has projected annual sales of 20,000 for the Mark LT. It will compete primarily with pickups such as the Cadillac Escalade EXT and Chevrolet Avalanche.

Lincoln is marketing the truck to men in their mid-40s to mid-50s with annual incomes of $75,000 or more.

'Night and day'

"The difference between the Blackwood and (the Mark LT) is night and day," says Lincoln Mercury spokeswoman Sara Tatchio. "We feel good about learning from the past. There were issues in the past, and one of those was a lack of capability."

The Blackwood couldn't do the kind of towing and other work the Mark LT can do, Tatchio says. Because the Blackwood had a hard top that did not retract, its bed was largely useless.

Dean Silver, general sales manager of Varsity Lincoln-Mercury in Novi, Mich., says he expects the Mark LT to give Lincoln a foothold in the high-end pickup market.

"We are very excited about that vehicle," Silver says. "There is a buzz about it. We have a substantial list going of people who want it."

Tatchio says the Mark LT melds the F-150's engineering with Lincoln styling. But Wes Brown, a partner in Iceology, a Los Angeles market research company, says the truck's styling lacks boldness.

"It doesn't stand out in any way," Brown says. "So it just disappears into the market."

Super Bowl splash

AMCI's Wangers questions Lincoln's decision to launch the Mark LT with a 30-second commercial in the first half of the Feb. 6 Super Bowl. Lincoln has not advertised during the National Football League championship game for more than a decade.

Wangers says that Cadillac, Lincoln's chief competitor, typically dominates Super Bowl advertising.

Cadillac spokesman Jeff Kuhlman says the automaker plans "to take our traditional big position" during the game telecast.

Kathy Roznowski, Lincoln Mercury national marketing communications manager, says the Super Bowl commercial for the Mark LT will provide "excitement and buzz around the Lincoln brand."

Lincoln Mercury plans to launch 11 vehicles in the next four years.

Roznowski would not say what Lincoln is spending to air the commercial.

A source close to Fox Sports, which will broadcast the next Super Bowl, says the network is charging an average of $2.4 million for a 30-second spot during the game.

Lincoln Mercury's Tatchio says the Mark LT commercial will stimulate "water cooler conversations."

Roznowski says it will be "edgy."

"To be on the Super Bowl with a spot, it has got to be noticeable and rated at the top, and so that's what we're going for," she says.

Wangers says the truck commercial would stand out more during the broadcast of an event such as the U.S. Open tennis tournament.

But Brown argues that the Super Bowl audience is engaged in the commercials. Many viewers tune in to the game just to watch the spots, he says.

"I would hope that the placement of Lincoln's one single ad is good," Brown says. "Being that you have only one spot and knowing you have competition, you are going to have to make it stand out that much more.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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