I wasn’t planning on posting anything too serious about the Detroit auto show. Really, I wasn’t. I came here to cover the show for a local newspaper and, secondarily, to post snarky observations that I might pick up along the way for Cars In Depth.
But then there was Lincoln.
I thought it was odd that Jim Farley was missing from the line up at Ford’s press event on Monday morning. I thought it was even more odd that he was lead for the Lincoln presser the next day. I have seen him speak often enough at press conferences in the midwest but there was something different about this one.
I didn’t get to the Lincoln event in time to get a seat so I watched it on a jumbo monitor in the Ford show space just outside of Lincoln’s. It was just as well since I got to see him on the slave camera and could observe nuances that I might have missed otherwise. In the camera close ups, he didn’t look like a man who was comfortable about what he was saying – and he was saying some pretty odd things.
He talked a lot about dealerships and the experience that customers face. He also talked about the kinds of hotels customers stay in. He showed slides of dealerships for other luxury brands, dealerships which Farley called extravagant. He said that Lincoln’s “scale” allows it to “slow down and focus”.
Meaning, I guess, that since they aren’t selling many cars they have a lot of time to think about things.
He went on to talk about how customers are looking for warmth and a more personal experience in their transactions and how Lincoln might deliver that. What about two representatives taking care of you rather than one? (He didn’t explain how that would improve the transaction.) What about finding ways to “stimulate every one of your senses”? (He didn’t explain how, but the idea sounds intriguing. Oops, I’m getting snarky again.)
He went to say that dealers could deliver cars to the customer rather than have the customer come to the dealership. How they could install cameras in the service departments to allow customers to monitor service work using their iPads or smart phones. Those are great ideas, but tell the dealers, not us.
His presentation was all so nebulous and ambiguous that it left me feeling doubtful about Lincoln’s future. He did talk about the MKZ concept on display next to him and it is a fairly impressive car. It looks great inside and out, has accoutrements that are worthy of a luxury car and could easily fit in Ford’s (not just Lincoln’s) product line. Could it turn Lincoln’s fortunes around? Not by itself, but it’s a start.
So what’s the problem? Why is the MKZ they are showing just a concept and not a production car like the Fusion on the other side of the hall? Why does Lincoln’s display have almost nothing to do with cars?
And why did Jim Farley seem so uneasy?