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President Lincoln Goes to China - The Lohdown

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 3/30/2015 Edward Loh

Lincoln has been promising four new vehicles by 2016, and the stunning Continental concept on our cover is a tantalizing look at what could be the fourth, and the flagship, model.

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"The campaign has gone very, very well. When we had started the journey with MKZ, we had planned and promised four products. The first three were the MKZ, the MKC, and the MKX … And the promise is that the fourth vehicle would be a sedan, which is going into production next year," says Kumar Galhotra, president of Lincoln Motor Company.

Many of you started asking for the return of the Lincoln Continental moments after the nameplate went away in 2002, and now it's back—in glorious form. But do you know whom you have to thank? China.

Lincoln is one of the most recent automotive brands to enter China, but the response has been remarkable.

Kumar Galhotra previously led a Ford team seeking to introduce more than 50 new vehicles and powertrains to Asia and Africa.© Provided by MotorTrend Kumar Galhotra previously led a Ford team seeking to introduce more than 50 new vehicles and powertrains to Asia and Africa. "We started opening stores in November. We opened nine last year and opened three more this year; we will be up to 25 stores by the end of this year … up to 60 stores by the end of next year," says Galhotra. "And the throughput on those stores has just been phenomenal. In January, three of the top 10 stores globally were in China. And keep in mind they are selling only two products: the MKZ and MKC."

Brand perception has been key to Lincoln's initial success. "The favorable opinion is actually ahead of Lexus," says Galhotra. "The perception of prestige is ahead of Audi. And keep in mind Audi has been there a couple of decades and is the official state car -- almost."

© Provided by MotorTrend Lincoln's rich history with heads of state and celebrities also plays a huge role, says Galhotra. "The heritage is huge. My previous job was head of product development in Asia Pacific when we first started planning for Lincoln [in China], so I was there for several research events, when we were researching both products and the brand. [The Chinese] were raising the heritage in every focus group; they thought of it as presidential. So much so that we're calling Black Label [Lincoln's premium ownership and service program] Presidential over there. We tested both Black Label and Presidential, and they were really, really [for] Presidential," says Galhotra.

"They talked about movie stars," he continues. "I was impressed by how much they knew … that Frank Sinatra had [a Continental Mark II]. I heard a story from a Chinese national about Elizabeth Taylor, how her studio had painted a Lincoln to match her eye color. That kind of stuff is very well-known."

But more important, says Galhotra, is that Chinese consumers demand a large sedan.

© Provided by MotorTrend© Provided by MotorTrend "We launched only the MKZ and the MKC there, and they're doing well. The mix of the C is nearly 70 percent primarily because SUVs as a total in the entire Chinese market are on a tear … especially luxury SUVs. But for the sake of space and prestige, sedans still carry a bit of prestige in China, especially in the luxury market. They are very much looking forward to a large sedan … Especially for people who have chauffeurs and ride in the back seat. That's a really big deal, and we took that into account."

To be clear, Lincoln had always planned for the fourth vehicle to be a sedan, and we in the peanut gallery had always assumed it would be the replacement for the MKS. But to bring back the Continental nameplate after five alphabetized models is inspired -- apparently by China's nostalgia for 1960s America.

President Lincoln Goes to China - The Lohdown

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