New Lincoln Aviator signals Ford’s direction

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

The all-new Lincoln Aviator is a signal how Ford Motor Co. plans to get where it has said it wants to go.

Lincoln Motor Company President Joy Falotico joins Ford Motor Company's Executive Vice President and president, Global Markets Jim Farley as the 2019 Lincoln Aviator SUV is unveiled at the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Wednesday in New York City.

The Dearborn-based automaker two weeks ago gave a product overview for the next two years. The company wants nearly 90 percent of its total vehicles sold in the U.S. to be trucks or SUVs by 2020. This as CEO Jim Hackett and his team work to cut operational costs, streamline production and introduce new or updated vehicles around the world.

Jim Farley, president of global markets, cautions that cuts alone won’t get the company where it wants to go.

“We can’t cut or redesign our way to success,” he told The Detroit News at the New York auto show. “We have to launch product that people love.”

The 2019 Aviator will be about the same size as the Explorer. The pre-production SUV shown in New York has the new Lincoln look: It’s sleek, commanding, reminiscent of other popular three-row luxury utility vehicles, yet unique in its sharp angles, tapered body and beefy front end.

The size is important. The huge Lincoln Navigator is selling faster than Ford can make it, but for some it’s just too big. The Explorer is the company’s second-best-selling SUV, and Farley says should translate over to Lincoln.

If the Aviator sees even part of the success that Ford’s new Expedition and the new Navigator have had since launch, it will boost Lincoln’s bottom line. The automaker is currently in a sales slump — along with much of the rest of the industry — as it moves to start selling a new MKC and the Nautilus crossover SUV later this year. It’s also moving to increase production of the profit-rich Navigator at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant.

Joy Falotico, the new Lincoln president, said the company wants the three-row, rear-wheel drive SUV to nab a chunk of the 20 percent growth automakers expect the luxury SUV segment to see over the next two years.

Falotico, Farley and Lincoln executives all separately said the Aviator is a big moment for a company that’s spent the last four years reinventing itself. The SUV kicks off the next leg of new vehicles for the company, and it does by carrying design cues seen on the eye-catching Continental and Navigator vehicles and amplifying them.

For some who’ve been watching Lincoln change under former president Kumar Galhotra, who was recently promoted to head Ford’s North American business unit, the Aviator’s an indication Lincoln has found a rhythm.

“They’re different from three years ago,” said Karl Brauer, analyst with Cox Automotive. “The Continental signaled a new philosophy behind the company.”

Lincoln has said it will debut five other new SUVs over the next few years in addition to the Aviator. The Aviator will have a plug-in hybrid option when it goes on sale in 2019, a first for the company. Lincoln is also debuting new technology on the vehicle, namely a keyless entry system that allows users to unlock and start the SUV with smartphones and leave the key fobs in the house.

“The company is really trying to zero in on the segments that really allow us to build a strong brand and play to our strengths,” Farley said. “I’ve been here from day one on Lincoln and I had experience in the luxury business before I came to Ford. It’s been really fun to see in my eyes Lincoln finally find a voice.”

Twitter:@ Ian_Thibodeau

Detroit News automotive reporter Nora Naughton contributed