Ford Motor Co. (F:US), speeding the rollout of the redesigned Lincoln MKZ sedan to revive its luxury line, said the model’s April U.S. sales set a monthly record that drove a gain of at least 10 percent for the brand.
“We should be right around the 4,000-unit sales mark for MKZ,” Jim Farley, executive vice president of Ford global marketing and sales and Lincoln, told reporters yesterday on a conference call. “This would be our strongest sales month ever for MKZ and it will be a double-digit percentage increase for Lincoln as a whole.”
Ford is counting on the MKZ, which features a chrome grille inspired by eagle wings and an optional retractable glass roof, to increase demand for Lincoln and contribute more to results in North America, where the company posted record profit and margins last year. Lincoln first-quarter U.S. sales plunged 24 percent, the most of any brand with at least 100 sales.
The MKZ’s previous best month was 3,795 in December 2006. Automakers including Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford report April U.S. sales today. Ford may have led U.S. automakers with a 17 percent increase for the month, the average estimate of 11 analysts in a Bloomberg survey.
MKZ deliveries have been improving after Ford ended an arrangement where it was shipping its newest Lincoln model through a second plant. The company’s factory in Hermosillo, Mexico, began sending all MKZs directly to dealers after several weeks of shipping some of the cars to a second plant in Michigan for finish work.
“This is going to be a long road over the next months and years coming for remaking Lincoln,” Farley, 50, said on yesterday’s call. “It’s such an important journey for the company. It will not only need to continue but accelerate for us to continue to be competitive.”
The MKZs were put through additional quality inspections and equipped with missing parts at the factory in Flat Rock, Michigan, which allowed Ford to fix problems with the cars without interrupting output of its surging Ford Fusion sedan.
MKZ inventory at dealers was at “very normal levels” in the second half of this month, Farley said during an April 24 quarterly earnings call.
“You’ll see in our sales results that the product is being extremely well received,” he told analysts and reporters last week. “The hybrid mix is much stronger than we thought. The sales on the coasts are much stronger than we thought, and we should have a really great story to tell at the end of the month.”
Ford has introduced an online concierge service to the luxury brand’s car-shopping process and “Lincoln Date Night,” a test-drive program in which potential customers are treated to dinner, to draw more buyers. Lincoln sales plunged to 82,150 last year from a peak of 231,660 in 1990.
“As a challenger brand,” Lincoln wanted to “release any of those barriers to just try the product,” Farley told reporters yesterday.
About 500 potential customers have taken part in the date night program, he said. In the three weeks that the concierge service has been available at Lincoln.com, “several hundred” leads have been passed along to dealers, he said.
The MKZ is the first of four new models Lincoln has coming over four years. Lincoln began selling the restyled MKZ in January at a starting price of $35,925. About half of MKZ orders being placed with dealers are for the hybrid version, which is priced the same as the conventional model, Farley said.
Ford rose 0.4 percent to $13.71 at the close yesterday in New York. The shares have gained 5.9 percent this year, compared with a 12 percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
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