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Lincoln Is Proving That Car Names Can Still Work

For many years, it’s been considered a simple reality of the luxury car world that if you want your luxury cars to sell, they shouldn’t have a name. Instead, there should be some letters, and maybe some numbers, relevant to the car’s positioning in your overall lineup — but the most important name on the car was the brand name, not the model.

Many automakers have followed this strategy. Mercedes-Benz, of course, does not name its cars, instead going with "classes" of names — C-Class, E-Class, S-Class. BMW has always done the same: 7 Series, 3 Series, 5 Series. In the late 1990s, Audi caught on, ditching its incomprehensible naming scheme for an alphanumeric description: A4, A6, A8, and later SUVs named the Q7 and the Q5 — with "A" standing for "Audi" and "Q" for "Quattro."

Johan de Nysschen, a higher-up at Audi who saw the success this name changed help bring about, launched similar change at Infiniti when he took over as the head of that brand: gone were old names like the G35, the FX35 and the JX35, and in their place all cars were "Q" something, while crossovers were "QX" something. The same thing happened when de Nysschen went to Cadillac: CTS, DTS and SRX were ditched, in favor of alphanumeric combinations that explained where each car fell in each brand’s lineup — CT6, XT5, etc. These brands were using letters and numbers, not names, before de Nysschen arrived, but he streamlined these names even further, in Audi’s tradition.

But then, in the last few years, Lincoln has come along. The luxury brand has led its revival with the new Navigator SUV and the Continental sedan, and it appears Lincoln is going with a strategy of names, rather than numbers and letters, to distinguish its vehicles. The Lincoln Aviator is the new 3-row SUV. The MKX became the Lincoln Nautilus. The MKC will supposedly be renamed the Lincoln Corsair when it’s redesigned in a few years.

It seems Lincoln is trying the opposite of the strategy that worked for Audi, and which everyone else has since followed. Now that everyone is using letters and numbers, Lincoln must figure actual names will distinguish vehicles more than an alphanumeric soup that people seem to have trouble remembering. And so, the Lincoln names are arriving.

More importantly, people are responding to them. I still don’t quite understand why Cadillac has both the CT6 and the CTS, and I’m not sure why the Infiniti QX60 is larger than the QX70, even though its number is smaller — it doesn’t make much sense. But I know exactly what a "Lincoln Continental" is — and many others do, too, as its name is helping it stand out in a crowded field of confused letter-and-number-combination vehicles. Lincoln is using names, and it seems to be working — and it’s certainly going against the grain.

And so, as the luxury car world is populated with the NX200t, the GLS450, the CT6, the A8, the M760i, the QX80 and on and on and on, Lincoln’s car names are a refreshing change — and they give the brand a fresh new image, as opposed to a "me, too" luxury car company trying to copy the letter-and-number naming conventions started by rivals years ago.

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