Ford's problems have been mounting.
The auto giant has struggled over the past two years, as CEO Mark Fields was ousted in 2017 and replaced by Jim Hackett, who is now mired in an $11-billion restructuring of the 119-year-old automaker. The stock has declined 30% in 2018, even as Ford has enjoyed a sales boom for profitable pickup trucks.
Despite its struggles, though, Ford has some bright spots. And its Lincoln brand is one of them.
Joy Falotico, the group vice president of Lincoln Motor Company and chief marketing officer, is one of just two women who preside over aspects of a major automotive luxury brand, with the other being Aston Martin America's head Laura Schwab.
Falotico got the job, and the official title of vice-president, in March of 2018. Previously, she had been CEO of Ford's captive financing arm, Ford Motor Company Credit. (She remains the chairperson of Ford Credit's board.)
Under former boss Kumar Galhotra — he took over Ford's critical North American operations earlier this year — Lincoln had undergone a huge brand reinvention after the longstanding luxury marque had been threatened with demise in the wake of the financial crisis.
Ford survived and re-established itself as a competitor to General Motors' Cadillac. The brand still trailed German luxury nameplates such as BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, but with an appealing lineup of crossover SUVs and an offbeat advertising campaign starring Oscar-winning actor Matthew McConaughey expressing esoteric profundities, Lincoln was back on the map.
Falotico's arrival coincided with a brilliant bit of strategic good fortune. After debuting a dramatic new Lincoln Navigator concept vehicle at the New York Auto Show in 2016, Lincoln followed up with a production reveal of the redesigned full-size SUV at the same venue in 2017. The SUV went on sales shortly thereafter.
Navigator has now doubled its 2017 sales figures every month in 2018 and is on track to sell 6,000-7,000 more vehicles this year than it did last. Ford can't build them fast enough.
"Give me more!" Falotico said of the dealer reaction, in an interview with Business Insider. She added that inventory has dropped below a 20-days supply, meaning that demand for the SUV is off the charts. On top of all that, she said that the sales mix is "really rich," with 80% of sales consisting of the Black Label and Reserve trim level, starting at $94,000 and $82,000, respectively, before options.
Falotico said that Lincoln was pleased with the new Navigator's market performance, but she noted that the latest generation of the vehicle came after a decade committed to the third-iteration of the first true luxury full-size SUV (Navigator dates to the late 1990s).
"We stopped our investment and were passed by the Cadillac Escalade," she said.
Falotico's next challenge is to build on Navigator's success and, as she put it, "sell the whole lineup."
For Lincoln, that means pressing forward a pair of smaller crossovers, the midsize Nautilus, and the compact Aviator. Both will replace older SUVs in Lincoln's portfolio and carry substantial sales burdens as the luxury market moves away from sedans.
For now, Navigator is leading the charge — and according to Falotico, helping Lincoln to bolster the brand in a touch new region, China, whose auto market is already bigger than that in the US.
Falotico conceded that the full-size hauler occupies a smaller segment in China than it does in the US. But she pointed out that the SUV functions as a "halo" vehicle for the brand there, and that Chinese customers have responded favorably to it.
For Lincoln, that's welcome.
"China is going to be the largest market, for certain," she said.
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