Lincoln, the brand that had trouble in the Aughts escaping its rented-tux Town Car—and a different era of American luxury involving curb feelers and more ashtrays than cupholders—is preparing to electrify in new ways. Plug-in hybrid versions of the fully redesigned 2020 Aviator and 2020 Corsair crossovers are due at dealerships later this year. A fully electric vehicle, closely related to Ford’s performance-themed EV, is expected in 2021; and there will be others.
The Aviator specifically will be Lincoln’s first-ever plug-in vehicle, so it begs questions of whether its dealerships, which are still shaking the image of servicing the senior set, are up to the task of cozying up to charging stations and charge points.
Lincoln’s marketing manager for SUVs, Megan McKenzie, emphatically says that it is—and that actually, it’s a demographic grab for the brand, which has long had some of the oldest average buyers in the automotive industry.
Simply put, plug-in vehicles appeal to a younger, more affluent demographic, summed McKenzie, when we sat down with her for a short discussion at an event surrounding the New York auto show.
McKenzie said that’s part of the reason why the best-equipped model in the lineup, the Grand Touring, will be offered only as a plug-in hybrid. As it’s priced, the top-of-the-line Grand Touring Black Label can top $90,000. The plug-in hybrid version of Lincoln’s smaller Corsair, not yet detailed, will help cement that position.
The new showroom traffic goes hand in hand with some new messaging at the Ford Motor Company luxury brand, which was itself recast as “Lincoln Motor Company” for marketing purposes earlier in the decade. It's now in the midst of its second major design revamp of the decade—this one themed Quiet Flight, with clean mesh-metallic grilles, softly sculpted sheet metal, wraparound windshields, and cabins that nod to private planes and first-class accommodations.
According to McKenzie, Lincoln has already made progress in closing the average-age gap between its buyers and those of other premium brands. “Some of that is the premium industry coming up in age overall, but we also haven’t been increasing,” she said, noting though that its average buyer remains closer to 60 than to 50.
Now back to whether Lincoln dealerships will be ready: McKenzie says that customers will be able to buy them in all 50 states, and that the brand is requiring dealers to become certified in order to sell and service plug-in hybrids. Making the PHEV its most luxurious, highest-price model likely also helped establish what she says is “pretty widespread enrollment from our dealer body.”
Lincoln continues to sell a hybrid without a charge port—the MKZ Hybrid. It’s sold that model since 2011, although through the years it’s played second fiddle to top-trim V-6 versions.
The Aviator plug-in could serve as a much better bridge to that upcoming fully electric. The model will offer Pure EV and Preserve EV modes; given the name Pure EV, we’re assuming that Lincoln has chosen to let owners lock in fully electric operation, even near or when the accelerator is floored.
The Aviator Grand Touring is rated at 450 horsepower and 600 pound-feet of torque, and has a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 under the hood. The PHEV, with its better performance, will meet or beat the fuel economy numbers for non-hybrid models when it’s run through its charge and operating as a hybrid, Lincoln says. The EPA hasn’t yet rated the Aviator plug-in hybrid's electric range—and Ford has been tight-lipped about that—but with the battery at around 13 kwh, expect in the vicinity of 20 miles.
When asked whether California and ZEV states will be the focus for Aviator Grand Touring marketing, McKenzie deflects. “Whether it’s a PHEV and you get credits, or HOV lane access, or whether you can then talk to people about how you have a hybrid, a plug-in, or a battery electric vehicle, all of those things are important to us,” she said. “The intention is not to only sell it in certain markets, but there are certain markets, certain customers, certain demographics—California is the best example—of customers who are just looking for that in their life.”
2020 Lincoln Corsair
McKenzie says that especially in top-trim, it all comes down to: “Hey we’ve got customers who want to be green, but don’t feel like all the options out there are meeting their needs; how can we take advantage of this miss, and take it to the Aviator specifically?”
Depending on whether the young and tech-savvy keep calling, it seems, the electric motor and some Black Label style could well be what saves Lincoln from the retirement home.