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Ford Maps Out Lincoln Plans

Automaker is meeting with Lincoln dealers to discuss the brand's future and will urge them to upgrade service in attempt to revive the luxury brand.

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. is meeting with Lincoln dealers to discuss the brand's future and will urge them to upgrade service as the automaker tries to revive the luxury brand.

More than 1,000 dealers were expected at a two-day meeting in Dearborn, which began Monday evening.

Ford plans to release seven new or revamped Lincolns in the next four years, including Lincoln's first compact car.

At the meeting, Ford plans to discuss ways to improve Lincoln, whose sales have been lackluster in recent years despite new products. Lincoln's annual sales peaked in 1990 at 231,660, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Last year, Ford sold 82,847 as buyers looked to other luxury brands like Lexus and BMW.

Ford is under pressure from dealers to replace the volume they'll lose when the company phases out its Mercury brand at the end of this year. Ford has around 270 Lincoln-Mercury dealers, and many relied on Mercury for more than half their sales. Some have already closed.

Ford also needs to change Lincoln's frumpy image and reach out to younger buyers. Lincoln currently has the oldest customers among luxury brands, with an average age of 66, according to AutoPacific, a consulting firm. BMW buyers are 15 years younger.

Matt VanDyke, U.S. marketing director for Ford and Lincoln, says Lincoln is defined by older vehicles like the Town Car sedan, which is often pressed into service as an airport limo and is being phased out next year. He wants buyers to focus on Lincoln's new products. Its top-sellers are the MKX, a large wagon, and the MKZ mid-size sedan.

Last weekend, Lincoln began a new series of ads featuring "Mad Men" actor John Slattery that focus on Lincoln's technology, including an in-dash touch screen that replaces knobs and dials. VanDyke says Ford wants Lincoln ads to be edgier and show direct comparisons to its competitors.

Next year, the company plans to start targeting shoppers on Internet car sites and offer to bring them Lincolns for a test drive.
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