The luxury automaker's dealership numbers are expected to continue falling in the EV age.
As manufacturers continue to encourage a switch to electric vehicles, dealerships are being forced to make some hard decisions. Luxury brand Buick will make a buy-out offer to dealerships that do not wish to sell EVs, following the lead of Cadillac. Ford, on the other hand, will make certain investment demands of dealers that want to sell its EVs but will not ban these dealers from the brand if they do not yet wish to make the required upgrades.
But at Lincoln, Ford's luxury arm, things will be slightly different for a brand that has seen a diminishing dealer footprint in recent years. Speaking in an interview with Automotive News at the Detroit Auto Show, Lincoln President Joy Falotico said that, roughly five years ago, Lincoln had more than 1,000 dealers. At last count in March, Lincoln had 685 dealers, and Falotico says she expects the brand to end 2022 with fewer than 600 dealers.
"I think there [are] opportunities for us to continue to consolidate the network, but it will be in a voluntary situation," said the executive. So will Lincoln buy dealerships out to try to encourage an EV switch?
"We don't plan to have any specific buyout program," said Falotico. "We continue every year to work on the network and say, 'do we have the right dealers in the right markets with the right focus?' Certainly, as we go to EVs and we see that concentration, that will create another opportunity for dealers to decide if the investment makes sense for them or if it doesn't. It will be completely up to them if they want to proceed with the Lincoln brand."
As we touched on earlier, Ford will be demanding EV chargers and other upgrades for those that wish to sell electric cars made by the brand, with "elite" dealerships that have spent more money on EV infrastructure gaining access to demo vehicles and inventory, while those who only pay for the bare minimum in EV-specific upgrades will not get any EVs on their lot, although these cars can be collected at such dealers after the customer purchases them online.
But Lincoln won't go that route, likely because it has so few dealers at present anyway. "We're not exactly where Ford is on it," said Falotico. "I don't see us needing to have a multiple-tiered approach because we're a smaller brand."
The luxury automaker's leader also said that its certification program for EV sales will probably have a different timeline than Ford's, which states that dealers have until the end of October to decide if they want to become EV certified for the period from 2024 until the end of 2026.
"We're still working on the exact timing," said the company president. "We do expect we'll need to be getting on with it as well, given the lineup we've said we'll have coming. We're not exactly tied to the same timeframe as Ford."
The decision to prepare for EV sales and servicing will be a big one for dealers to make, as Falotico notes that "no matter how you look at it, that's going to be an investment for our dealers."
When the time comes that the Lincoln Aviator and its current ICE siblings become pure electric vehicles, these dealers should have had plenty of time to make upgrades or decide to leave the brand altogether. How many dealers will exist at that point is anyone's guess, but exciting new products will help convince them to make the change.
Lincoln announced last year that its entire offering would be electrified by 2030. If its three new fully electric vehicles coming by 2025 are impressive enough, dealers will gladly start upgrading to prepare for a fourth EV in 2026.