Washington — Remember Generation X as an angst-ridden bunch, derided as the slacker set?
Maybe they didn't turn out so bad after all. Why else would auto companies now be pitching luxury cars to them?
Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury Div. is taking demographic aim at Gen Xers in marketing its all-new '09 Lincoln MKS flagship sedan, touted for elegant design and high technology.
“In going after the Gen X customer, we want to highlight the vehicle's technology because that group is very tech savvy,” Brett Wheatley, Lincoln's marketing manager, says at a media preview here.
Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1982, got a bum rap for being lazy, because many of them temporarily faltered after graduating from college only to find limited career opportunities, says Sheryl Connelly, a Ford trend tracker.
“Faced with such limitations, a lot of them became entrepreneurs and succeeded,” she says. “Gen Xers are starting to increase their accumulated wealth and are approaching their peak earning years.”
That puts many of them, in their 40s now, in a position to buy luxury cars, says Connelly, herself a Gen Xer.
It's something of a belated honor to the one-time scorned generation that Lincoln is pitching the MKS to them, because it is intended as a special renaissance vehicle for a division that has seen better days.
Lincoln sold 131,487 units last year, with 0.82% of the market share, according to Ward's data. It hasn't surpassed 1% since 2000.
“This product is so important to Lincoln and Ford,” says Wheatley of the new addition to the division's lineup.
MKS designers harkened back to better days for the brand, borrowing from and freshening up design details from Lincolns of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
The car's signature design feature is a split-wing grille influenced by the '41 Lincoln Continental, says Peter Horbury, Ford's executive director-design, The Americas.
Exterior technology highlights include adaptive cruise control that keeps the car a safe distance from the vehicle in front of it; adaptive high-intensity discharge headlamps that pivot to increase the driver's field of vision; and an industry-exclusive capless fuel-filler system that automatically seals shut when the nozzle is removed.
Interior technology features include Sync, a voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system developed by Ford and Microsoft Corp.
The MKS shares the same platform as the Ford Taurus and new Ford Flex.
The 3.7L V-6 engine is a derivative of the 3.5L V-6 in two sister Lincolns, the MKX CUV and MKZ midsize sedan.
Base price is $39,555, including an $800 destination fee. The sticker price reaches $46,070 with various options, such as 20-in. (50.8-cm) aluminum wheels, rear-view camera and a dual-panel moon roof.
One of the first people to acquire an MKS when it goes on sale in early summer will be Lou King, general manager of Ourisman Ford Lincoln Mercury of Alexandria, VA.
“See that CLK,” she says, pointing to a Mercedes-Benz parked outside the dealership. “I'm switching that for an MKS.”
She calls it an “awesome car and something Lincoln needed to compete.”
The MKS takes Lincoln in a new direction while paying homage to the division's styling past, says auto analyst Erich Merkle, a vice president at IRN Inc.
“The key to Ford's and General Motors (Corp.'s) success is doing a better American vehicle, and the MKS is an example of that,” he says.
The MKS reaches the proper balance by sharing a platform with the Taurus but featuring distinctly upscale Lincoln accoutrements that a customer can see and touch, Merkle says. “For a long time, Lincoln was a neglected brand that offered a lot of rebadged Fords.”
Concurring with that is Jim Farley, Ford vice president-marketing.
“Lincoln was never abused, but it was neglected,” says Farley, whose grandfather was a Lincoln dealer in metro Detroit. “Lincoln had good cars here and there, but it just wasn't consistent.”