There's good and not-so-good news.
Ford has worked extremely hard to make its Lincoln brand a prime player in the luxury segment. Following the discontinuation of the Continental and MKZ, Lincoln is now an SUV-only brand. The all-electric SUV based on Rivian's skateboard architecture has been put on indefinite hold but a fully electrified Aviator is due by 2024. All in all, Lincoln is holding its own and, interestingly, it's doing even better in China than in the US.
Per Automotive News China, for the first time ever, Lincoln sold more vehicles in China than in the US last year. A grand total of 91,000 Lincolns were sold in the world's largest automotive market in 2021, a 48 percent increase over 2020. Meanwhile, US sales dropped by 18 percent to 86,929 units. That's the lowest yearly total since 2013.
Part of the blame falls at the feet of the ongoing semiconductor chip shortage. But Lincoln's rise in China is remarkable considering it didn't open its first dealership in the country until 2014. What was the secret to Lincoln's success? Simple, it studied Chinese consumers. It even hired the company that designed the original Apple stores to create a unique-looking dealership layout that included amenities like tea rooms, waterfall displays, and a heritage wall showing off Lincoln's long history. Heritage goes a long way in China.
Only a few vehicles are placed in showrooms but all rest on pedestals with enhanced lighting. In addition, dealers were given training on how to cater to wealthier customers and their specific needs. Some of those lessons are now being applied to the US. But there's also a "secret weapon" of sorts: sedans.
The Continental remains on sale and the stunning all-new Zephyr will launch later this year. Ford is also working to localize a majority of Lincoln's production in China instead of importing from the US. However, overall global sales are not up to par. Ford originally hoped to sell 300,000 Lincolns worldwide by 2020 but that number was reduced in 2018 after it was acknowledged that goal wouldn't be possible. Despite this shortcoming, Ford has no intention of discontinuing Lincoln or making it China-only.
"This is an iconic American brand, and a big part of the appeal in China is because it's an iconic American brand," said Kumar Galhotra, Ford's president of the Americas. Still, Lincoln still trails luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes, and even Cadillac and Volvo in China. The threat coming from Tesla also can't be ignored. But new models like the Zephyr and future EVs should help Lincoln make up for some lost ground.