One of the things American consumers look forward to when purchasing a vehicle is the “new car smell.” Children and adults can sit in the car, long after the journey is over, and just inhale the intoxicating fragrance, which is created from a bouquet of plastics, glue and leathers.
However, the average Chinese consumer finds the smell hideous and offensive, and while the new car smell will remain in America, all Lincoln cars shipped to China will have carbon sheets placed inside the cabin to absorb the new car smell. By the time the Lincolns reach China, the smell will be gone.
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Lincoln, owned by Ford, is rather late to the Chinese market but has been skilled at playing catch-up and learning from its peers. Kumar Galhotra, according to the Detroit News, is not only getting rid of the new car smell to attract Chinese customers, but is taking into account local habits, culture and attitudes about the entire experience of buying and owning a car. For instance, the Chinese tend to be distrustful of repairs, and dealerships have lounges with windows so customers can watch their car being serviced or see a video of the process on their smartphones. In addition, Chinese consumer prefer cushier back seats. “We’re getting input from all our Chinese customers and making sure all their needs are met, ” said Galhotra told Detroit News, ” All of those little things have really resonated with the Chinese customer very, very well.”
Ford CEO Mark Fields, the first Jewish CEO of Ford, points out that Lincoln’s luxury segment is the largest in China and the Ford brand is held “in high regard” in the country. While Ford is still selling well in the U.S. and its luxury offerings are doing well in China, in its recent earnings, Fields gave a muted outlook for 2015. The stock returned -15% since July, and it could perform even worse this year. While Fields touted his success with the Lincoln brand in China in the media, it was “barely mentioned” in the earnings conference call, according to APBK Capital on Seeking Alpha. Sales have also been weak in Europe, given the economic situation. While Lincoln might be the top selling luxury brand in China, that doesn’t necessarily mean that more Chinese are out buying luxury cars than in years past.