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Can free live-operator service help save Lincoln?

Buyers get 3 years of free operator assistance through Sync, but also the MyLincoln Touch system.

By Douglas Newcomb Nov 9, 2012 3:08PM

MyLincoln Touch. Photo by Ford.Ford's beleaguered Lincoln division is like the Rodney Dangerfield of luxury brands: It can’t get respect or sales. Lincoln is also on most observers’ death-watch lists and is expected to suffer the same fate as Ford's midluxury Mercury division, which was axed in 2009 during the economic downturn.

But are free live-operator services enough to cause someone to buy a Lincoln over the competition? Ford thinks so. It's trumpeting the fact that Sync Services provides a free Operator Assist feature on every new Lincoln for the first three years of ownership. While Sync Services offers automated information, Ford added live-operator assistance last year so that car owners can speak with a live operator 24/7 to get directions or search for a business listing.

The base level of Sync Services provides voice-activated information on traffic, news and other information -- even horoscopes. At any time during a Sync Services business or directions search, the driver can say "Operator" and connect to a person. That person can further assist with a business search, give turn-by-turn directions, send directions to the vehicle or send a text message to the driver’s phone with the name, address and phone number of a business.

This Operator Assistance feature includes an unlimited number of calls for Lincoln owners, while Ford buyers get 60 calls a year for three years. After that, Ford owners pay $60 a year for the same number of calls and Lincoln owners pay $199 a year for unlimited calls. Ford says this is a bargain compared with similar services, and points out that “a comparable Lexus package, for example, starts at $264.90 per year after one year.”

True, but it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison for several reasons.

One is that Sync relies on the driver’s phone to connect and make calls, whereas Lexus Enform and other “telematics” services use a built-in modem to make a connection to an operator. While Sync may be less expensive, the savings may not count for much when you forget your phone or it runs out of juice. And while Ford Sync provides 911 Assist that will call 911 from a Bluetooth phone connected to the system when an airbag deploys, the system doesn’t offer any of the other core telematics safety services, such as roadside and emergency assistance and stolen-vehicle tracking.

In addition, many telematics systems now use the car’s embedded modem to offer remote services via a smartphone application, such as being able to lock or unlock a vehicle’s doors, start the engine and control and monitor other functions. Those are all savvy features that Ford and Lincoln vehicles can’t do.

While it’s true that these systems all require subscriptions that kick in after a free trial of a year or so, BMW is the luxury-car exception: Its Assist Safety Plan is free for four years for 2007 and later models from the vehicle’s in-service date and $199 after that. The optional Convenience Plan, however, costs $199 per year right off the bat.

What may make buyers balk even after comparing the costs of these services -- if they even bother to do that while shopping -- is that ordering Sync Services and Operator Assistance also means ordering the MyLincoln Touch system. With all the problems Ford has faced with its buggy and complex infotainment system, that may be enough to scare off potential Lincoln shoppers.

Nov 11, 2012 3:01PM

My Father was a Lincoln fan. Former British Army officer during WWII - Lincoln represented the American dream to him. We moved to the States and my Dad bought 2 new Lincolns before he died. Many great times and memories in those old boats. Thus I have a soft spot for Lincoln but I just can't begin to think of buying one when what they put out for cars doesn't make me want it - I mean really want it. Put next to a BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Cadillac the Lincoln just doesn't look like it even belongs there.


I want to want one but the cars that they are putting out just don't cut it, so a live operator service is not going to tip the balance because there is no balance to tip.

Nov 12, 2012 7:47AM

Lincoln suffers from too much "badge engineering".


While Cadillac shares some power train and underpinnings with Corvettes and Camaros, they don't look like them.  All manufacturers who produce both mainstream and luxury brands share componnents between them, however their luxury brands have different and upscale apperances.


Lincolns are simply Fords with different grills, tail lights and interiors.  It's not enough of a difference to justify the price premium.  Besides, what differences there are, are ugly!

Nov 10, 2012 5:12PM
They need to bring back suicide doors.
Nov 12, 2012 6:52AM
The VAST majority of drivers do not want a manual transmission so that is not the answer. Most don't want a diesel motor either, even if it's due to not understanding them, so that is not the answer either.
  The ONLY things that can keep Lincoln from dying is styling and quality. In the luxury division, if you don't have those two things, you don't have dickey do. You don't even need to have reliability, that is obvious when you look at the reliability of many luxury brands.
  Lincoln designers need to hang out at the golf courses and Broadway type theaters and take note of who is getting looked at when they pull up. Comfort and getting noticed is what the people that buy these vehicles want. Don't give them the wow factor and you will die in that sector.

Nov 12, 2012 12:07PM
"I prefer traditional manual transmissions and I wish they were offered more even if as an order-only "custom" option, but I don't think the lack of one is holding Lincoln back."

I think there is something wrong with a brand whose entire lineup does not contain a single manual transmission model, let alone no diesels.

I think that is hurting them with the mid-30's to mid-40's population like myself which does have the means, and can afford a Lincoln but will not because Lincoln does not have anything this age group wants.

Adding more technological complexity when people like myself strive for simplicity in luxury is in my view not the answer either. I do not want gizmos and gadgets, I want a futuristic looking vehicle with credentials under the hood.
Nov 12, 2012 5:19AM
"'s beleaguered division is like the Rodney Dangerfield of luxury brands: It can’t get respect or sales. Lincoln is also on most observers’ death-watch lists and is expected to suffer the same fate as Ford's midluxury Mercury division, which was axed in 2009 during the economic downturn."

Let us face it, who wants to buy a gasoline only, automatic only "grandpa car" - and pay premium for it?

Case in point: I love the way Lincoln MKT looks and would buy one - if it came with a Ford Duratorq or Powerstroke diesel and a manual transmission. Can you even imagine the Lincoln brand reinventing itself that way?

If the answer is "no", then it should come as no surprise why Lincoln is on a death watch list.

GM made the (partial) jump with Cadillacs now offered with manual transmissions, and they are raking in sales. Lincoln's management should take a hint.
Nov 12, 2012 6:33AM
I would rather push a Lincoln, than drive an Obama Cadilac.
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