Ford Motor Co. is eliminating 175 Lincoln dealerships in major metropolitan areas in a move that it said would improve profitability for the remaining stores.
Ford executives delivered the message Tuesday during a gathering of Lincoln dealers at its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. There are 1,200 Lincoln dealerships nationwide.
The nation's No. 2 automaker said the closures were part of an effort to revitalize the brand amid increased competition from foreign nameplates such as Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus.
Ford said it had not yet made a list of which dealerships would be shuttered. But the automaker said it needed to close 35% of the 500 Lincoln dealerships in metropolitan markets. There are more than 20 Lincoln dealerships in Southern California.
"The company is working to make Lincoln the premier luxury brand," said Christian Bokich, a Lincoln spokesman. "These type of changes are necessary if we want to get more customers into showrooms."
Once the top-selling luxury brand, Lincoln has fallen behind its competitors in recent years. Through September, Lincoln sold 63,286 cars and trucks this year. Lexus has sold 162,438.
Lincoln has an image problem, said Jesse Toprak, an analyst at TrueCar Inc., a Santa Monica auto sales and pricing information firm.
"It's Grandpa's car," Toprak said. "That's Lincoln's biggest hurdle."
TrueCar.com recently completed a study that found that the average age of a Lincoln buyer was about 59 years old — second only to Buick. If Lincoln wants to attract buyers in their 30s to 40s, it's going to take a major marketing campaign that stresses technology and prestige, Toprak said.
"Eliminating dealerships is also a good strategy" because there are too many in the metropolitan areas, he said, adding that remaining Lincoln dealers will have to invest in their facilities and create the type of environment that is conducive to selling luxury cars.