AUTOMOTIVE

Ford’s luxury Lincoln marque looks at expanding in lower-tier cities to boost sales

Brand sold 32,558 vehicles on the mainland in 2016, a hefty 180 per cent increase on 2015

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 12:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 10:50pm

Ford Motor Company’s luxury Lincoln unit plans to expand into the western part of the mainland, as the latecomer to the world’s largest auto market accelerates its presence in the fast-growing premium vehicle segment.

Lincoln is looking to increase the total number of showrooms on the mainland to 100 this year from 72, according to Carrie Lin, its deputy general manager of consumer marketing in the country.

“We are setting our sights on third- and fourth-tier cities to bolster our brand awareness and give customers a first-hand experience of the vehicles,” she said.

“This proactive expansion of our sales network will continue for at least the next five years.”

We are setting our sights on third- and fourth-tier cities to bolster our brand awareness and give customers a first-hand experience of the vehicles. This proactive expansion of our sales network will continue for at least the next five years
Carrie Lin, Lincoln’s deputy general manager of consumer marketing in China

Lin added that Lincoln has closely monitored trends in the Chinese auto market in its planning and will offer new models specifically tailored for it, which might include alternative-energy vehicles. The brand sold 32,558 vehicles on the mainland in 2016, a hefty 180 per cent increase on 2015.

Lincoln China president Amy Marentic said last year it was considering local production of its cars in its second-largest market after North America.

Some of the new dealers to be opened this year will in south-western or western parts of the mainland, such as Yunnan province.

Lincoln only launched in the market in 2014, and still lags far behind more-established global rivals such as General Motor’s Cadillac and BMW, both of which have vast sales networks spread across the country.

At the end of 2016, Lincoln had 65 showrooms and 7 so-called “branches,” a smaller version of an official dealership, generally located in central business districts.

This year it will add 15 stores to bring the showroom number to 80 and add 13 branches to bring the number of branches to 20.

Lin also said that Lincoln would embark on a “go-digital” programme to help not only bolster sales but offer customer-friendly services to drivers and potential buyers.

“China is the world’s front-runner in e-commerce and use of mobile internet technologies,” she said. “We are looking at a lot of things to better attract and serve Chinese people.”

One is better connectivity with mobile apps such as instant messaging services WeChat in vehicles, through their in-car entertainment systems, which have become practically compulsory for many buyers of up-market car models, most of whom are much younger than their counterparts in the west.

Five Lincoln products are available on the mainland including the small premium utility vehicle, the MKC, and full-size luxury SUV Navigator.

Local production would certainly give Lincoln another boost, to tap the mainland market in its efforts to compete against other luxury brands
Yale Zhang, managing director of industry researcher, Automotive Foresight

Lincoln-branded vehicles range in price from 300,000 to 1 million yuan. Lin says his marketing strategy for China is best described as “one-size-fits-one”, to show that it is determined to offer individualised products and services to different customer groups.

“We want to cater to different customer groups but fine-tune all our designs to give them the best experience possible,” he Lin. “We are very optimistic about the prospects for the luxury vehicle market in China.”

Vehicle sales climbed 15.6 per cent in the mainland during the first 11 months of 2016, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

“High-end cars grew at a pace twice or even triple that of the overall market,” said Yale Zhang, managing director of industry researcher, Automotive Foresight.

“Local production would certainly give Lincoln another boost, to tap the mainland market in its efforts to compete against other luxury brands,” added Zhang.

In terms of sales in 2016, five of Lincoln’s top 10 stores around the world are based in China.

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