Is the Lincoln Continental Concept Too Derivative?

The Lincoln Continental concept was unveiled at an event in New York this week, just prior to making its debut at the 2015 auto show. It’s an important step for Ford’s luxury car brand as it struggles to regain lost market share and recapture the glamour of its past – before luxury car buyers began flocking to foreign brands.

In order to appeal to the sensibilities of these buyers, the exterior design of the car brandishes many characteristic luxury design elements found on other vehicles, some direct competitors in the segment. The rear end undoubtedly references the new Audi Prologue (though both cars may have been conceived at the same time), the profile apes Bentley’s Mulsanne in its proportions and surfacing, and the front grille – flanked by headlamps we’ve seen on an Acura – could be mistaken for coming off a new Jaguar.

While it’s certainly not atypical for a new design director to want to step in and make his mark when taking the helm, the new design puts forward too many swift changes to Lincoln’s brand identifiers without any evolutionary progression. Which is a shame really.

Lincoln’s new design director, David Woodhouse, has been through his fair share of Lincoln concepts over the course of his career at Ford. He worked on the previous Continental Concept in 2002, the 2001 Lincoln MK9 coupe and the 2004 Aviator crossover SUV concept under the direction of Gerry McGovern. He also had a hand in the 2009 Lincoln Concept C, designed by Jeremy Lang under the direction of Freeman Thomas in Ford’s advanced design studio in California. It’s hard to imagine a more disparate group of vehicles conceived under the same brand.

But just as the company seemed to finally be finding its feet, Woodhouse has decided to pull out the carpet and redesign nearly all of the elements that would take Lincoln into the future. The waterfall grille and the full-length rear taillamps have been replaced by elements that – though well resolved — aren’t nearly as bold or unique.

I can’t help but think that Lincoln has lost its brand identity with that new grille. The ‘lozenge’ element that has been a recurring feature on the brand’s auto show stands for the last few years has been beautifully integrated into the grille design, but the DRG is nowhere near as identifiable as the 2006 MKR concept’s and has no family resemblance to the recently revealed production MKC and MKX models. This puts into question the current Lincoln range. What will the brand do now? Hasty facelifts?

In this day and age it’s certainly hard to come up with something that’s new, fresh and unique. And let’s not forget the fact that the auto industry is a business with design being one spoke on a massive wheel. There are CEOs, board members and shareholders, all of which ultimately have a say in the process of creating a new vehicle. Perhaps they had a little too much to say on this occasion. But the company has historically been led by conservatism, and it’s hard to create game changing when you’re met with adversity to risk.

In a letter to Lincoln dealers in 2011, Ford said that it needed an investment from them to significantly boost the ailing American luxury car company’s image. The letter said that the brand would see seven all-new or significantly revised models by 2015 along with dealership upgrades, and it asked its dealer network to cough up $1m apiece towards its $1bn investment to achieve that goal. In reality the company probably needed closer to a $3bn investment. I’d be very curious to see what’s happened to the budget now that all of the models in the lineup are in need of a makeover to remain consistent with the new Continental’s design language. From what we know, the car is set to go into production by 2016.


I want to see Lincoln succeed more than anyone — my first car was a 1973 Continental Mark IV (rendering by Dick Nesbitt above), complete with opera windows and doors longer than an original Mini and nearly as heavy. But I can’t help but think that while derivative design might pull Lincoln into the consciousness of customers currently cross shopping Mercedes-Benzes, Audis and BMWs, the company’s lack of uniqueness in its newfound design identity may not stand the test of time. I do hope I’m wrong.


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