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Ford to unveil Lincoln makeover

As part of an attempt to change Lincoln’s image, the MKZ mid-size sedan has been radically redesigned.

Ford Motor Co.

As part of an attempt to change Lincoln’s image, the MKZ mid-size sedan has been radically redesigned.

DEARBORN, Mich. — In the fiercely competitive world of luxury cars, Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln brand has long been stuck in the slow lane, with stodgy models, older buyers, and a distinct lack of glitz.

But Ford is determined to change that. On Monday, the company will announce upgraded customer service initiatives, a new brand name for Lincoln that plays down the Ford connection, and an unusual advertising campaign that features Abraham Lincoln, the president for whom the brand is named.

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Chief executive Alan R. Mulally will begin the rebranding effort at Lincoln Center in Manhattan — the first in a series of moves meant to reverse Lincoln’s seemingly perpetual state of decline.

Ford will formally rechristen the brand as Lincoln Motor Co. and introduce a television spot that begins with an image of President Lincoln, stovepipe hat and all. The first Super Bowl commercial is in the works, as is a revamped website that links consumers to a Lincoln ‘‘concierge’’ who can arrange test drives or set up appointments at dealerships.

Mulally will also announce the on-sale date in early 2013 for the radically redesigned Lincoln MKZ sedan, as well as plans for three new ­vehicles.

If it seems like an all-out grab for attention, that’s exactly the point, said James D. Farley Jr., Ford’s head of global sales and marketing and the newly named chief of the Lincoln revival effort.

‘‘The most important thing is for people to be aware that there is a transition going on,’’ he said. “We have to shake them up.’’

The shake-up is critically important to Ford, the ­nation’s second-largest car company, behind General Motors.

As recently as the 1990s, Lincoln was the top-selling luxury automotive brand in the United States. Its large Town Car sedan and hulking Navigator SUV defined the brand, and sales topped more than 230,000 vehicles a year. But Lincoln has been left in the dust by the German category leaders Mercedes-Benz and BMW and Toyota’s Lexus division. This year, Lincoln ranks eighth in the luxury segment, with sales down 2 percent, to 69,000 vehicles in the first 10 months of 2012.

GM has had much better success reviving its Cadillac brand.

Changing Lincoln’s image from stuffy to stylish is a high hurdle to clear. The new advertising campaign mixes the heritage of classic Lincolns of the 1950s and ’60s, including presidential limousines, with dreamy shots of the new MKZ. And for the first time, the brand uses Abraham Lincoln as a metaphor for its cars.

‘‘The name Lincoln has very strong meaning for this country,’’ Farley said. ‘‘What he stood for as president was independence, fortitude, and elegant thinking.’’

The connection with ‘‘Lincoln,’’ the new Steven Spielberg film about the widely admired president, is both fortunate and coincidental.

‘‘We didn’t plan it that way,’’ said Matt VanDyke, the division’s senior marketing executive. ‘‘But sometimes it’s better to be lucky.’’

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