Why Cadillac beats out Lincoln as America’s luxury marque
It’s been a long turf war between Lincoln and Cadillac for the title of the premier American luxury carmaker. Anyone who is honest with themselves will admit that this is a battle that Lincoln more often than not is losing, and miserably. In terms of sales, Lincoln can’t hold a candle to Cadillac, which sold more than double the roughly 80,000 units moved by Ford’s luxury brand in 2011. Internationally, Lincoln is practically nonexistent as they only have dealers in the U.S. and Canada, while Cadillac has a presence in 37 different countries across the globe.
However, this wasn’t always the case, as Lincolns long dominated the once popular full-sized luxury sedan market, with healthy sales as recently as the ’90s for the brand’s legendary Continental. But as the market for these oversized boats died out, Cadillac was able to adapt to the increasingly popular field of Japanese and European rides flooding the market and rebounded with tighter, more performance oriented models like the CTS and XLR.
Despite an early lead, Lincoln misses the mark on path to relevance
Lincoln had a chance at renewed relevance when it’s Navigator model hit the market in 1998. The luxury brand was actually ahead of the curb when it came to throwing a full-sized, truck-based SUV on the market, as Cadillac didn’t rebadge the GMC Yukon until a year later, resulting in the first Escalade.
Despite the initial popularity of both models at the onset sales-wise, for one reason or another, the Escalade became a cultural icon of decadence and youthful coolness while the Navigator stagnated in an SUV market that became increasingly crowded.
Cadillac adopted a new design language; Lincoln didn’t fix what was broken
GM was wise to resculpt the Escalade for the 2002 model year, establishing the “Arts & Science” design direction that would dictate all future models produced by Cadillac. This also resulted in an Escalade that was actually worthy of the praise it received from celebrities and musicians. This model was actually unique, at least in appearance, compared to the clones that make up the rest of the full-size truck lineup produced by GM.
Lincoln expanded on the Navigator line in hopes of making it a more attractive option for the younger generations that fawned over the Escalade. This prompted them to come out with the Blackwood pickup, which essentially entered a market without precedent, and without much effort. The car was little more than a four-door Ford F150 with faux-wood piping along the bed. The car wasn’t cool, wasn’t innovative and didn’t beat Cadillac to the market.
The brass at Cadillac saw the surprise success of the Avalanche SUV-pickup-hybrid at Chevrolet, and decided that they wanted an Escalade version for their dealers. The EXT combined the appeal of the Escalade name with the actually unique features of the Avalanche to make a lineup of trucks at Cadillac that not only brought the brand back to relevance, but made Lincoln look worse for it. The Blackwood only lasted one model year and sold a miserable 3,356 models in 2002, almost all of them at a loss for dealers.
For the second time in a decade, Lincoln failed to successfully adapt to a changing market
The last flaw that Lincoln faced at the turn of the millenium that has resulted in their remarkably far fall from grace was their inability to adapt to changing times. Cadillac received an overhaul when Lincoln stuck to its guns. The success of Cadillac’s truck line prompted the brand to take the same approach to their car line when they took a chance by introducing the CTS in 2002, which was radically different than anything else either company had ever made.
When the sales of full-sized SUVs fell off near the end of the last decade with cars and fuel-efficient crossovers becoming premier products even in the luxury market, Cadillac was able to endure because of the risk they took. While Cadillac has helped GM come back from bankruptcy, Lincoln has been on the verge of ceasing production for much of the last decade.
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