The Lincoln Motor Company is hoping to make a comeback. Once the ride of choice for prime ministers and presidents, movie stars and captains of industry, from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s it’s lineup had gone from elegant to ordinary, their cars nothing more than poorly disguised Fords with a little leather added to the interior.
A few years ago executives at Ford set out to change that, setting up an independent team for Lincoln vehicle design, development, sales and marketing. The team is led by Kumar Galhotra in a newly created roll of President of the Lincoln Motor Company. Mr. Galhotra is an engineer by trade who had previously been VP of engineering for all of Ford and led product development for the Asia Pacific region. Thus he brings a wealth of understanding of the all-important China market to the company at this pivotal point in its history. In place since 2014, he’s overseen the launch of their two latest products, the MKC and MKX crossovers, and has led the charge on the most critical vehicle to Lincoln’s resurgence, the all new Continental.
With the Continental just a few short months away from hitting the road, I’ve spent the past few weeks interviewing Mr. Galhotra, Lincoln Design Director David Woodhouse and other key members of the design and engineering teams to better understand the thought process behind the new Continental and get a first-hand account of the details they feel will set the Continental apart in a crowded full-size luxury sedan market.
Interestingly, when the project to create a new luxury sedan was initiated, it wasn’t decided that the Continental name would even be attached to the final product. Mr. Galhotra said, “We needed a large, premium sedan in our line-up so we started exploring.” After seeing the first round of designs and not being happy with the overall direction, he told me “Names are powerful. So I told the team, ‘You know you’re designing the new Continental’ and then everything changed.” The key in that statement was “new Continental.” Mr. Galhotra was emphatic that they weren’t to create a retro car, but one that translated the spirit and promise of the original into modern times. “We have an awesome responsibility of living up to that iconic name.”
David Woodhouse felt the responsibility as well. “When we learned we were designing the new Continental, it reset the expectations for the project.” he said. “You can imagine there were literally thousands of ideas, the key was to find a look that was appropriate to the nameplate, appropriate to the contemporary luxury landscape and befitting the brand today. We didn’t want anything too classical or retrospective. It was all about finding just the right sensibilities of the theme.”
He went on to say, “We’re one of the few marques in the world that has not just one, but three iconic cars attached to that name. We have this greatness in our past that we have to get back to. I want to see us have design icons in the future, and this car is putting us on that road.”
When I asked about the design process, he talked about understanding the desired experience that owners want to have and then designing the features around that. “We’re all about quiet luxury.” Woodhouse explained, “A great example is the electronic door handle and latch. This is the first touch point with the customer and it is very special, very unique not just by its position, but in what it enables in the design, the cleanliness of the design. The door’s bereft of any pocketing and handles and complication. But also that experience of the actual interaction with the machine. The soft closure, the soft cinch, the effort that’s involved are so low, you have to retrain yourself in a good way. All you’re doing is presenting the door to the latch. You don’t have to throw it closed. That epitomizes the quietness, the effortlessness, the beauty that we’re trying to communicate.”
The other examples he focused on were the perfect position seats, which adjust thirty ways, and even have independent thigh supports for each leg. He also talked about the attention to detail, right down to the start up screen on the dash that “provides a little bit of that flamboyance, that glamor of Hollywood. I wanted it to sparkle that glitter dust that becomes the name. It’s a small thing, but I hope it brings owners a smile everyday. We have another 20 things like that, but it shows the kind of attention the team has paid to deliver the experience and feeling for the customer.”
This theme was echoed by Lincoln Interior Design Chief, Soo Kang. “Our goal was to create a serene interior environment that’s clean, clever and creative. We know our customers are very busy, so we wanted to simplify everything allowing them to enjoy elegance and luxury.” This shows in the smooth flowing surfaces on the interior as well as the choice of materials, especially in the Black Label trim. It’s also reflected in the way technology is presented. “We want the technology to be there to deliver on the experience.” Kang said. “It supports the product and life experience people expect from a Continental.” You see that in the simplified instrument panel and improved interfaces for all the controls.
When it comes to handling and performance, the words that came up throughout the conversation were “poise and grace.” The idea is not to create a performance car, but a car with ample performance. The 400 horsepower twin-turbo V6 should offer plenty of power and with a choice of either front or all-wheel drive, Lincoln hopes to offer a calm, confident driving experience.
For a final word I’ll turn back to Mr. Galhotra who summed Continental up this way. “We all know how hectic life is and we want to provide a sanctuary. A place to unwind. We’re privileged that they are spending their time with us and we want to reward them for that.”