Sport utility vehicles justify their workhorse reputation in a survey conducted by iseecars.com.
ACTON, Mass. — For Acton Lincoln, a rosy holiday sales season of sorts began on Dec. 5.
Since that “Black Monday” when Lincoln officially opened its order bank for the 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car, general manager Bill Cunningham of Acton Fleet Sales took orders from operators and coachbuilders for 240 livery MKTs and counting. He projects to have tallied more than 300 by close of business Friday. About 20 chauffeured transportation companies had placed orders by Tuesday, along with most of the major coachbuilders, Cunningham said.
As Cunningham told LCT: “We sold more Lincoln MKT Town Cars this week than Ford sold of the MKT nationally for all of November.”
Acton Fleet Sales, the largest Lincoln livery dealer in the U.S., is a major supplier of Lincoln vehicles on behalf of Ford Fleet Limousine & Livery Vehicles to the Boston, New York and New England corridor, considered the most heavily concentrated service region for the chauffeured transportation industry and where the largest operations in the U.S. are headquartered.
The wave of orders for the 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car appears to contradict industry grapevine chatter and criticism about the cross-over styled MKT being an unacceptable successor to the Lincoln Town Car Executive L sedan. Since Lincoln announced the MKT Town Car in October 2010, many operators have expressed fears and reservations about the MKT’s unconventional body style, and worried it might not carry forward the luxury image established by the venerable Lincoln Town Car Executive L. Some of the online comments about the MKT attached to automotive media reports have been rather hostile and dismissive.
Several weeks ago, LCT spoke with a longtime coachbuilder on a trade show floor in Atlantic City, N.J. who said he has observed similar industry hysteria about a vehicle transition three times before. In each case when Lincoln redesigned and reshaped the Town Car — 1989-90; 1997-98; and in the early 2000s — many operators at first deemed the reworked model unacceptable and predicted the demise of the Town Car. It never happened, with Lincoln remaining the dominant seller of luxury livery sedans.
The sales momentum and enthusiasm that Cunningham observed this week, along with reports from two other key national Lincoln livery dealers, indicate some new dynamics in the limousine marketplace could be emerging that would puncture industry misperceptions, or myths, that surround the MKT. What is actually happening. . .
“This is a great start for us on a brand new car,” Cunningham said. “We have been getting feedback from operators that have been waiting for price, then working up orders.”
However, Cunningham quickly added that the MKT still needs “to prove itself to the industry.”
Athough Ford Fleet Limousine & Livery Vehicles has not officially released any prices yet on the 2013 Lincoln MKT Town Car, Cunningham has priced his Lincoln MKT Town Cars at $43,199 each. [The MSRP on a retail Lincoln MKT is $50,945]. A 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L at Acton sells for $41,388. [All prices are exclusive of taxes, license fees, and other routine add-on charges].
With the high volume of orders taken, Cunningham has honed his sales pitch on the MKT vs. the Executive L: “For about $2,000 more, you get a two-year newer car since it’s an early 2013 model, AWD technology instead of rear wheel, in-dash navigation, remote start, SYNC, MyTouch, Wi-Fi, unique livery seating, and rear seat controls. This is packed with features. There is more cargo room and appears to have more headroom. Because it’s two years newer, it is one hell of a bargain.”
Most of the operators ordering the MKT run small to medium-sized fleets, Cunningham said. “It’s not the big guys coming out of the box first; it’s the small to mid-size operators doing this who see the opportunity to flip their entire fleet because the size of the fleet is smaller and they have an advantage over big companies who must think twice about transitioning their fleet over to a new car,” he said. “When it’s a smaller operation, it’s a lot easier to do that.”
Cunningham also has noticed clients struggling over whether to buy the last remaining Town Cars or go ahead and order the MKT. Production on the MKT starts in February 2012 with the first deliveries to dealerships in March. Ford Motor Co. boosted production of the 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L this year to meet close-out demand from operators who want to keep the Town Cars in their fleets for at least another few years before choosing a replacement vehicle.
“One company in the Midwest wanted to buy 20 Town Cars but then decided to buy five Town Cars and 15 MKTs instead,” Cunningham said. “There is a lot of thought behind these purchases.”
Dealerships get strong response
Commercial fleet sales manager David Bastian of Towne Livery in Orchard Park, N.Y. encountered a similar situation with an operator in the Deep South. That operator received a request from a pair of prominent musician clients for a vehicle with WiFi service and other high-tech amenities — the same ones that are standard on the MKT. The operator didn’t have such a fleet vehicle and had to rent an SUV that was equipped with them instead.
“The customer now is considering ordering a MKT over a Town Car and wait for it because the high tech stuff is what the customers are asking for, and the MKT provides those things,” Bastian said.
Bastian told LCT he is focusing on selling his last remaining Town Cars and plans to do a major e-blast promo for the MKT by next week. Nevertheless, he’s already getting unsolicited interest in the MKT Town Car from prospective buyers. “One of the things I’ve been finding is that while I’m promoting the Town Car, people are bringing up the MKT to me,” he said. “They’re telling me about it and showing more interest in it. Six months ago that wouldn’t have happened. What’s changed is that people have done their research and seen what the MKT is competing against. The [MKT] may not be their first choice but it’s the best choice for the industry. When the MKT was introduced, the concept of a crossover was not embraced right away, but I do believe it is changing.”
At Complete Fleet & Limousine Sales, a division of Maplecrest Auto Group in Union, N.J., the second largest volume Lincoln livery dealer in the U.S., owner Barry Trabb is noticing a growing embrace of the MKT among clients, despite initial uncertainty. Over the last several months, Trabb has taken customer orders for about 40 MKT Town Cars, and has asked Ford Fleet to send him a total of 75 MKTs, anticipating continued demand.
“We’ve gotten a huge response on the MKT,” Trabb said. “Other than the shape, it’s still a Lincoln. I feel the market will accept it. The buyers that have longevity with Lincoln will stick with the Lincoln product although it is not the traditional sedan.”
Trabb also has observed a slowdown in orders for the 2011 Lincoln Town Car Executive L. “Customers are making plans to start the [fleet] flip,” he said. “The last thing you want is to be stuck with an older product when the new one comes out. A ton of content is being put into that car. The AWD is a strong component that operators need in the Northeast. I think the car will do well; the problem is people are not too receptive to change.”
Now that he has had time to become more familiar with the MKT, Cunningham said he can appreciate the meticulous planning and engineering that went into the vehicle.
“The engineering team has done an incredible job,” said Cunningham, who can draw upon 25 years of experience selling limousine vehicles. “The MKT matches if not passes the qualities of the Town Car. The whole Ford team has been committed to listening to the public.”
Cunningham called out QVM supervisor and Ford engineer Jim Murray for leading an effort that made sure the MKT was built for long, comfortable rides with access to top-notch technology. As examples, he cited the computer and smartphone plug-ins, 12V power supply, WiFi access, and privacy shades and glass that eliminate glare for clients using computers in the rear seats.
“This car is designed from the back seat out, and designed based on the client, not the operator,” Cunningham said. “It’s all about the guy who is paying to be driven around New York and Boston. There was a lot of thought given to this car.”
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
Related Topics: Acton SoCal Penske Professional Vehicles, Barry Trabb, Bill Cunningham, Complete Fleet & Limousine Sales, David Bastian, Lincoln, Lincoln MKT, new vehicles, Towne Livery, vehicle sales
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