Chocolate Inspirations, China Dreams
This weekend at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Lincoln Motor Company is announcing a new program called Black Label, which it describes as “an unparalleled series of experiences for Lincoln clients.” Set to bow as an option on the 2015 Lincoln MKZ, Black Label will include an expansion of the existing Lincoln Concierge service, with a focus on providing special attention to Lincoln buyers during the shopping, buying, and ownership process.
Lincoln officials are unwilling to be more specific about these largely intangible aspects of the program, but they speak enthusiastically about the part of Black Label that you will be able to see, smell, and touch: a trio of color-and-trim packages that are still a year away from production. These packages will be on display at the 2013 Pebble Beach concours in three Lincoln MKZ Black Label sedans.
In essence, Black Label is an extra-cost materials-upgrade package for the Lincoln MKZ that’s akin to Audi Exclusive, BMW Individual, and Mercedes-Benz designo, featuring special leathers, paint colors, wood treatments, and other stylized treatments that allow owners to personalize their cars. Unlike the German-car programs, which offer quite a wide variety of color-and-trim combinations, Lincoln will offer only three pre-selected trim levels.
The right options, and only the right options
“Black Label is a collection of automotive interior design themes with unique-to-world colors, unique wheels, and the finest furniture-grade leathers and woods,” says Lincoln’s product marketing manager Andy Georgescu.
“We don’t offer infinite complexity,” he continues. “Instead, we’ve curated a series of themes after looking at other high-end service providers such as American Express Centurion and after talking with dealers, who taught us to avoid complexity. [Through our research] we learned that we need to be authentic and to affect both the heart and mind [of Lincoln clients].” Obviously, Lincoln knows it can also save a lot of money by avoiding the manufacturing complexity that more choices would entail.
You can choose among the Black Label themes of Center Stage, Indulgence, and Modern Heritage.
Pick the right flavor for you
As we learned at a preview held for the media, Indulgence has been inspired by the love of chocolate (of all things), and Lincoln designers toss around descriptors like “truffle” and “ganache” so freely that we find ourselves wondering if we are in a confectionary class at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, rather than the Ford Motor Company Product Development Center in Dearborn, Michigan. We are all in favor of the current trend toward the use of brown pigments in leather, paint, and other automotive trim, and Indulgence appears to be the most attractive of the three themes, but Lincoln isn’t exactly breaking new ground here.
As for the oxymoronic Modern Heritage, it denotes a black-and-white theme and is aimed at Lincoln clients (probably childless ones) “who aren’t afraid to purchase a white leather sofa for their living room.” Its use of jet black, Bianca white, and red accents is similar to what we saw at the 2013 Detroit auto show in the Lincoln MKC crossover concept, which is also appearing at Pebble Beach.
The third Black Label trim package, Center Stage, is for “clients who are expressive.” It is “inspired by a woman wearing a flaming fox collar coat,” where the red hue of the fur collar is called foxfire. “This interior is not for everyone,” Lincoln C&M design manager Janet Seymour told us, “but for those who want a vehicle that is a stylish extension of themselves.” (It’s certainly not for us, we can say that.)
All three packages make extensive use of faux-suede Alcantara trim; special Venetian leather hides from Michigan-based Eagle Ottawa, which provided leather for the 1936 Lincoln Zephyr; unique wood trim; and new seat perforation patterns. Six exterior colors and a new wheel design will be unique to Lincoln Black Label cars, which will be further identified by a discreet blacked-out “Z” in the MKZ badge.
The international connection
The Lincoln Black Label program will be offered in the USA only by dealers who buy into the program’s philosophy, not to mention its attendant costs. At the same time, Black Label is also a play for Chinese buyers, as Lincoln prepares to enter the Chinese market in 2015.
As a result, the 2015 Lincoln MKZ, the first of four new Lincolns set to roll out over four years, will be the first vehicle to get the Black Label treatment. Each successive Lincoln product thereafter will have its own Black Label color-and-trim themes, starting with the compact 2015 Lincoln MKC crossover in late 2014 and followed in 2015 by a new compact sedan.
Promises for the future
What else does Black Label promise? “The experience will manifest itself in many ways,” says Matt VanDyke, director of Global Lincoln, “starting online and continuing at the dealership, where we are drawing inspiration from interior decorators and how they present [design proposals] to clients.”
More substantively, VanDyke also promises that “as we further develop [The Lincoln Motor Company], our cars need unique powertrains. You will see further investment in technologies and powertrains.”
For now, Georgescu advises us that Lincoln Black Label “will be mated with a robust client experience.” But what does that mean, precisely? He elaborates on five key things that Black Label will do:
1.) disrupt the current paradigm [of luxury-car ownership];
2.) provide a warm and personal experience;
3.) value the time of clients;
4.) feed the curiosity of clients;
5.) make clients feel special
One can infer, then, that Black Label will include the spiriting of Lincolns from home or office to dealership service bays with little to no effort on the part of owners; free equivalent loaner cars; and the like.
This is all well and good, but for now, Lincoln Black Label appears to be yet another slick marketing effort to distract us from the fact that Lincoln vehicles remain little more than warmed-over Fords. The proof for Lincoln will be in the product pudding, and the pudding hasn’t yet been served. Please make ours chocolate ganache when it is.