Lincoln’s LA debut and the eternal naming duality
Car names can cause strong effects on their makers — whether positive or negative. Lincoln has done its best to use that to its favor at all times
At first, it looks like the mere release of yet another crossover. Elegant design, imponent dimensions, fancy cabin, powerful engines and competitive prices. This particular crossover can fight both entry-level luxury models and upscale generalist ones. The Lincoln Nautilus only deserves attention when we notice three aspects of its release: it’s made by Lincoln, it’s the facelift of an existent model and, which is the aim of this post, it used to go by the name MKX.
Lincoln is currently overcoming a rough time. The extense design overhaul promoted in the mid-2000s tried to bring its image up to date in the luxury market, but was met with mixed feelings. The company had to balance new looks and competitive pricing by making heavy use of Ford’s parts and entire models, but this is exactly what luxury buyers dislike. Only recently is Lincoln finding a combination of those which turned out to be more acceptable.
When it comes to the facelift part, there are no surprises. The model followed the Continental and the Navigator and received the maker’s new front fascia: conservative shapes for lights and grilles so as to convey imponence instead of the outgoing exaggeration. As the first paragraph mentions, there are some improvements on comfort, fuel efficiency, performance and safety as well. The noteworthy part of this release for this post is, indeed, the name change.
Most car names use words, whether directly taken from the dictionary or new ones invented for that product. Some are used for their meaning while others are simply pleasant. While a good name can become a strong part of the car’s image, a bad one can make it joke fodder for years — and a subsequent sales flop. Lately, makers also have to worry about whether the name will send the intended message in all the countries where the car model will be offered.
Another type of names is alphanumeric codes. They can be acronyms for real words or merely a sequence of letters, numbers or both. Automakers usually apply those codes in such a way to allow (relatively) easy identification of each model’s position in the lineup, which is particularly good for companies which produce many models, like Audi and BMW. However, since there are also references to trim and powertrain, the codes can result complex anyway.
In practice, alphanumeric codes are considered a conservative option because there are no emotions attached to them. Automakers miss the chance to give it distinctive appeal from the beginning, but also avoid the risk of becoming a target of mockery. After all, it’s better for them if the name is forgettable than negatively memorable. In general, they only use words, especially those with meaning in language, when they’re safe the aforementioned risks won’t exist.
That notion helps understand what Lincoln has done so far. It began by using words because it’s a luxury manufacturer, which means its customers tend to have conservative taste, and because alphanumeric codes weren’t so common decades ago. Later, when Ford was forced to rethink Lincoln’s strategy so as to make it profitable again, the car models were renamed using alphanumeric codes simply because the company had to minimize its chances of failure.
Since the company’s situation is now improving, it decided to try and attract buyers by making its cars more interesting. The external design was updated to look classier, the cabin is more sophisticated than ever, and the emotional appeal is now given by the names of the cars: the safe-but-dull MK- structure was replaced by words once again. Starting by nothing less than an all-new Continental, which has always been the flagship and most famous Lincoln.
By renaming the MKX as Nautilus, the North-American company is investing in the individuality of its models. It’s giving them separate images as much as possible, but also bringing to memory elements of its past which helped build the reputation it enjoys today. While the concrete results — namely increased sales figures — are yet to appear, if that’s not a nice way to rebuild an iconic automotive brand and reinsert it in the luxury market, I don’t know what is.