"The SUV segment is pretty crowded," conceded Dirk Woerpel, marketing manager for Aviator. But, he said, "it's a good time to launch a new vehicle for Lincoln" because "we're coming in with a very competitive product." The new Lincoln has adult-friendly third-row seats and a standard V-8 engine. Plus, Lincoln had never competed before in the fast-growing premium category of SUVs costing between $30,000 to $40,000. Aviators range in price from $39,995 to $45,865.
WPP Group's Y&R Cos., Irvine, Calif., created a pair of 30-second spots showing the playful side of Aviator, carrying the brand's "those who travel well" tag. Both end with the SUV next to Lincoln's Navigator, as the narrator calls Aviator "the spirited offspring of Navigator."
Lincoln has been beating the drums for Aviator for several months. The SUV arrived in showrooms in November, while national newspaper ads began in early January and ads in 12 magazines broke last fall. The magazine buy doubled in January as the marketer expanded to new titles.
Lincoln wanted to wait until the industry's slowest-selling months of December and January were over before launching high-profile TV spots, said Ann Kalass, marketing-communications manager. She said Lincoln has gathered personal information from 75,000 hand-raisers who responded to a direct mailing, business reply cards in magazine ads or online.
Mr. Woerpel said Lincoln expects to sell between 30,000 and 35,000 Aviators this year, with the majority of buyers expected to be successful, educated males between the ages of 30 and 50 with young children. Early sales results show Lincoln is hitting that customer.
Lincoln predicted 85% of Aviator buyers will be new to Lincoln. Early data show Aviator buyers are cross-shopping with American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura MDX, Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus GX470 and RX300, Mercedes-Benz USA's M Class and BMW of North America's X5.
Lincoln could use a hit. The automaker said it sold 150,057 vehicles last year, or 5.6% fewer than 2001.
Wes Brown, an analyst with consultant Nextrend, said "we're just getting flooded" with new SUV models. He said the successful models will distinguish and separate themselves in some way from the pack, including styling, pricing, positioning or features. "Aviator is a little more undefined in the marketplace" he said, than its Ford sibling, Volvo's new XC90, which Mr. Brown believes is a leader in safety and technology.