Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln luxury brand began taking orders for its first locally produced model, the Corsair crossover, launching a renewed, multi-year plan to boost flagging sales by building more vehicles in China.

The Corsair, produced at Ford’s joint venture with Changan Automobile Co. in the southwest China municipality of Chongqing, is available in front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive.

The starting price of the front-wheel drive version is 248,000 yuan ($35,632) while that of the four-wheel drive variant is 305,000 yuan, according to Lincoln’s China unit.

It is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The vehicle is 4,615 mm long, 1,887 mm wide and 1,630 mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2,711 mm.

The locally built Corsair will hit showrooms in March, Lincoln’s China unit said.

Lincoln disclosed plans in 2018 to launch a locally produced model in China in each of the following three years.

Local production allows automakers to avoid paying China’s 15 percent levy on imported cars and light trucks in addition to modifying vehicle exteriors and interiors to suit local tastes.

Lincoln sells six imported models in China – the Navigator SUV, the Aviator, Nautilus and MKC crossovers, and the Continental and MKZ sedans.

In the first three quarters of 2019, Lincoln’s China sales dropped 15 percent to 33,692, well below the market’s top luxury brands, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Lexus and Cadillac.

Ford Motor, which only discloses quarterly sales, hasn’t released Lincoln’s China sales for the fourth quarter of 2019.

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The campaign amounts to a significant effort for a vehicle that is being launched into an EV market that remains niche, despite much hype.

Year-to-date, 175,350 electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S, which is less than 2 percent of all vehicle sales, according to figures provided by Kelley Blue Book sourced from insideevs.com. Tesla dominates EVs, selling 491,602 since 2010, compared with just 9,787 by Ford.

But the Mach-E represents a mindshift for Ford, which had previously sold electrified versions of more economy-minded models, like Focus, rather than a brand like Mustang that is known for performance. “This is a huge play by Ford to get serious about EVs,” says Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. It is as much of a corporate branding play as anything, he notes, driven by a desire to be perceived by consumers and analysts as “a forward-thinking, progessive company.”

Ford’s push follows moves by other high-performance brands to take on Tesla, including Audi, which has poured significant marketing behind its new “e-tron” SUV, the first of three battery electric vehicles the luxury brand will introduce over three years. Jaguar, meanwhile, has run TV ads for its electric I-PACE SUV, including one that uses the phrase “roar silently.”

But Brauer says Ford’s Mach-E fills a gap for U.S. buyers who prefer domestic brands and might be lured into buying an EV backed by an iconic brand such as Mustang that has been around a lot longer than Tesla.

Still, he says that does not guarantee the Mach-E will be “an overnight success.” There “is not going to be a single model that comes out in one fell swoop and turns the world into an EV-buying world,” he adds. “It’s going to be a long process of knocking down barriers and knocking down resistance from various demographics one-by-one.”

Ford is targeting a group of buyers it refers to internally as “lovers of the new,” which it refers to in internal documents as “LOTN.” 

“These are folks who are younger, more educated, more affluent,” VanDyke says. “Most of them...have never shopped Ford before. So we are absolutely interested in expanding the audience and bringing new people into the brand.”

Still, Ford wants to avoid turning off Mustang loyalists, some of whom might find anything resembling an SUV to be blasphemous for the pony car brand built on sports coupes. That is why Ford put an emphasis on reaching out to Mustang clubs, including flying members of the enthusiast groups to Detroit to get a behind the scenes look at the Mach-E. Some members of California-based Mustang clubs were scheduled to participate in Sunday’s reveal event.

Ford is also trying to leverage its network of 2,000 dealers who are “certified, trained EV dealers,” VanDyke says, referring to the vast dealer network as a “competitive advantage” over Tesla. The dealers, he says, “are completely motivated to activate their active their loyal owner base.”

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