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By AMY WILSON | Automotive News

A new flagship sedan for Lincoln is the top product development priority for Lincoln Mercury.

A large sedan takes precedence over a new coupe or convertible for Lincoln or Mercury, division President Darryl Hazel said Sunday after the Lincoln Mercury make meeting.

That vehicle "is an issue for us, and we're working on it," Hazel said.

The company is studying two existing platforms to carry the Lincoln flagship. One is the aging rear-drive Panther platform that underpins the Lincoln Town Car, Mercury Grand Marquis and Ford Crown Victoria. The other is the platform that supports the Ford Five Hundred sedan, which debuts this year.

The flagship would be all-wheel drive and likely wouldn't arrive until 2007 or later.

Phil Martens, North American product development chief for Ford Motor Co., said in early January that the company would make a decision on the flagship by the end of March. But Lincoln officials said Sunday that approval of the flagship plan will probably take longer than that.

Lincoln Mercury still has interest in the two-door market. Lincoln showed the Mark X convertible concept, a reskinned Ford Thunderbird, at the Detroit auto show in January. Hazel also has said he would like a two-door Mercury.

Developing a replacement for the Lincoln Premier Experience dealer certification program is another priority for Lincoln and its dealers. The current program will run through March 2005, the same termination schedule for the Blue Oval and Mercury Advantage certification programs.

Hazel said details about the Lincoln Premier Experience replacement will be revealed this summer.
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