After years of Ford unsuccessfully trying to court the Chinese market in the same way General Motors did, Blue Oval has finally hit an important milestone. For the first time ever, the Lincoln luxury brand has achieved more sales in China than in the United States.
On Thursday, Lincoln announced that it had delivered more than 91,000 vehicles in China in 2021 – representing an increase of 48 percent increase against 2020. Meanwhile, the brand managed to lose ground in North America with just 86,929 sales for last year. That’s the worst Lincoln has seen in over a decade, though the company has basically witnessed its share of the U.S. market seesawing in the wrong direction since the 1990s.
Prior to 2008, Ford’s luxury arm could reliably count on six-figure volumes in the U.S. each year. But that would be cause for celebration these days, as the company typically falls short of its sales targets.
Automotive News framed Ford’s Chinese connection as a clear victory for the automaker and – from a purely monetary perspective – it absolutely is. While it seems kind of sad that Lincoln cannot reliably depend on its home turf for the maximum amount of sales, Ford has been trying to get the brand into China for nearly a decade. Back in 2014, former CEO Mark Fields estimated Asia would help get Lincoln to a point where it could move 300,000 vehicles globally by 2020. It’s not there yet. But with business from China, there’s a chance it could be within striking distance within a few years, assuming the brand continues growing at its current pace.
Lincoln opened its first China dealerships in 2014, well behind much of its luxury competition. But the brand made a point to study Chinese customers and offer them a unique car-buying experience, called the Lincoln Way.
Lincoln hired Eight Inc., the firm that designed the original Apple stores, to craft warm, welcoming dealerships including tea rooms, waterfall displays and a heritage wall that showcased the brand’s history. Designers insisted on a small number of vehicles in the showroom, and placed those models on pedestals with special lighting.
Dealers were told to pamper customers and focus on the experience before they focused on the sale.
While Lincoln is predicting additional growth in Asia, has continued selling the Continental there (despite its elimination in the U.S.), and decided on debuting the upcoming Zephyr sedan in China, the manufacturer has said it will continue selling on the home market. That said, it’s also going to be localizing as much product for Asia as it can to avoid catching the ire of the Chinese government. It’s likewise going to be building more direct-t0-consumer stores within the region.
“Ford starts 2022 with strong momentum from the execution of our China 2.0 plans centered on a robust portfolio and electrification,” Anning Chen, president and CEO, Ford China, said on Friday. “The steady rollout of new vehicles – including the locally built Ford Mustang Mach-E, Ford EVOS and Lincoln Zephyr – combined with the launch of Ford’s network of direct-to-customer battery electric vehicle stores positions us well for growth ahead.”
[Image: Ford Motor Co.]
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