Lincoln unveils latest Continental

Lincoln President Kumar Galhotra on the luxury features in the 2017 Lincoln Continental.

The Lincoln Continental Is Back

By Auto FOXBusiness

The Lincoln Continental holds the keys to the future direction of Ford’s (F) luxury brand.

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At a time when its sales are outpacing the Germans, Lincoln is rolling out a brand-new flagship sedan to sustain the momentum. The Continental, named after the iconic large sedan that Ford scrapped in 2002, has arrived in U.S. showrooms.

“The Continental has really important emotional value for luxury-car buyers. It’s always stood for the best that Lincoln has to offer,” Kumar Galhotra, the president of Lincoln, told FOXBusiness.com. “We wanted to design a car that was totally modern, but it had to deliver on that promise and sense of Continental luxury.”

Lincoln’s plan to win over customers diverges from other brands focused on high-performance luxury cars. New Lincolns like the Continental will adopt what the brand calls “quiet luxury.”

Lincoln designed its newest vehicle with an array of inviting features, such as soft-closing doors and massaging seats. As drivers approach the Continental, its headlights slowly brighten. (“It’s almost as if the car is smiling at you,” Galhotra remarked.) The car also lays out a welcome mat—the Lincoln logo projected onto the ground.

The Continental packs a punch under the hood, too. The top engine is a V6 that generates 400 horsepower, and Lincoln engineered the Continental to bring that power to the road smoothly.

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“We have a philosophy of designing the experience first, and then designing the technology necessary to deliver the experience,” Galhotra said. “And if you’re going to design the experience, you have to know your customers very well. That’s where quiet luxury comes from. They’re looking for some effortlessness in their lives.”

The Continental’s elegant touches reflect a broader effort to reenergize Lincoln’s image among car shoppers.

Executives have sought to reintroduce the brand to luxury buyers and separate Lincoln from its rivals Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac and others. Lincoln launched a free pickup-and-delivery service in June and opened its first “experience center” in a high-end shopping center in Newport Beach, California. Another experience center will open in Dallas next year.

The moves seem to be paying off. Lincoln’s customer loyalty is on the rise, according to researcher IHS Markit. As for sales, Lincoln is one of the fastest-growing brands in the U.S. this year. Lincoln has sold 80,435 vehicles through September, an 8.7% increase over the same period last year.

Lincoln began shipping the Continental in September, reporting 775 units sold during the month. Prices start at $44,560.

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Lincoln is looking for the Continental, and eventually a remade Navigator, to accelerate sales growth in the U.S. and foreign markets. The company has opened dozens of new dealers in China, and the Continental was designed in part to accommodate the many luxury buyers there who have personal drivers. Sales in China nearly tripled to 20,996 vehicles through the first three quarters of 2016.

Although consumer demand for passenger cars like sedans is sliding, Lincoln believes the Continental will be a big hit with deep-pocketed shoppers. Galhotra noted that sedans still account for a large segment of the industry—41% so far this year. So, while the segment has been shrinking amid growing demand for SUVs, sedans remain a critical category.

In fact, Lincoln’s sales leader through nine months of 2016 is the MKZ mid-size sedan. The MKX midsize crossover, which made its debut last year, is a close second.

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