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Lincoln making vehicle changes in effort to keep up with top luxury brands

Lincoln making vehicle changes in effort to keep up with top luxury brands





By RICK KRANZ
Automotive News

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Lincoln is taking the first engineering steps to emulate the driving experience of the world's top luxury brands.

Lincoln realizes the driving dynamics of its vehicles vary widely and don't match the standards of such brands as BMW and Lexus. So it is improving the ride, handling, braking and steering of the 2003 Navigator, LS and Town Car.

It wants to reach top standards in 2005 when it introduces a generation of cars with a new styling signature.

But Rich Ceppos, publisher of AutoWeek, said Lincoln is trying to force that strategy on a group of vehicles and a range of customers that is so wide its strategy may not work.

While the LS is aimed at the BMW crowd, the Town Car is aimed at older drivers who like a soft ride.

"The Town Car is a moneymaker, and they have to have it," Ceppos said. "So until all those buyers die off, you are stuck with a brand that is very broad and very hard to conceptualize in a couple of words." AutoWeek is a sister publication to Automotive News. Before joining AutoWeek last year, Ceppos was a marketing consultant to Ford Motor Co.

Michael Renucci, Lincoln Mercury engineering director, said at a press event here that while the 2002 Town Car and Navigator "have been successful in their own right, they have quite different driving" and styling personalities. But "if you take a look at the strongest luxury brands, the one thing you notice is that they offer a high degree of consistency in their products" from the top to the bottom of their brand, he said.

Lincoln benchmarked such vehicles as the Lexus LX 470 and BMW X5 sport-utilities and the BMW 5 series and Lexus LS 400 sedans.

Here are several changes Lincoln is making for the 2003 model year:


Town Car: The frame was re-engineered to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Rack-and-pinion steering was added to improve road feel. Suspension revisions improve ride and handling. The exterior receives a redesigned hood, quarter panels and front fenders.


Navigator: The frame was re-engineered. Independent rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering were added. All sheet metal with the exception of the doors and roof is new, as is the interior.




Aviator: The new sport-utility, based on the Ford Explorer, debuts this fall. Driving dynamics are expected to be similar to the Navigator.




LS: Improvements will be revealed this year.
 
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