Rumours: could the Aviator name make a come-back, and on what kind of vehicle?

Last October, FoMoCo released its next corporate business plan, titled “2020 Vision”, and with it announced a number of significant news for Lincoln: up to 5 billion dollars in investment to support product development at home and in China, as well as a number of new products.

Back then, executives hinted at four new models altogether between now and 2020, and we have since been able to put names and faces on most of them: first of all, the MKX crossover bowed in Detroit in January; then the Continental sedan made a splash in New York; an all-new Navigator using the current F-150’s aluminium architecture is also pretty much a given sometime around 2018 or 2019.

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But that leaves us with an extra, mysterious model – and that is what gets the rumourmill going. To recap, there has been two distinct leads making the rounds: the first one is that the next-generation MKT would go from the fullsize and FWD D4 platform to the new, Lincoln-specific and still FWD D6 platform expected to be released some time around 2019 ; the second one is that the MKT nameplate and slot as such within the line-up would be killed off and replaced by a RWD crossover developped on a Ford platform.

Two different possibilities alright! Well, today, we get a few more details.

First of all, industry insider The Truth About Cars reveals that Lincoln engineers are indeed working on a new crossover codenamed “Aviator” and based on the Ford Explorer – without giving much details about the donor car’s specifications. Indeed the current Explorer was first released in 2011, and just received its mid-cycle refresh, so engineers are most likely to be working on the next generation.

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But, back in October also, the same sources revealed that the next Explorer would go back to a more traditional RWD architecture, in part in order to seduce police fleets around the country ; as of today, the Interceptor Utility (an Explorer in pursuit trim) already outsells the Taurus-based Interceptor by 2 to 1, but it still faces tough competition from police versions of the RWD-based Tahoe family. A switch back to RWD for the civilian version as well as its law enforcement specials could be a decisive sales argument for the Blue Oval, and could net Lincoln some benefits on the consumer market too.

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So, it seems like the second rumour is being validated: the demise of the MKT will free up space in the line-up for a RWD crossover (possibly a 5+2 seater) developped on a Ford platform, to slot in between the 5-seater MKC/MKX duo and the 7-seater Navigator. One question remains, how will it be called?

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By all accounts, the MKT never really got a hold on the market, even as it received a lot of very positive reviews in the press. Plus, we know now thanks to the release of the Continental Concept that Lincoln is most likely to drop the current naming scheme and go back to “legacy names”. So, putting two and two together, it makes a lot of sense that the “Aviator” name be used for this new vehicle! Many outlets noticed that FoMoCo keeps the Aviator and AV8R trademarks alive, but by itself that does not mean much in terms of product development: since the Aviator name was used on a concept car and on a production vehicle, keeping the trademark activated just amounts to intellectual property protection, and the AV8R moniker was actually used on a special edition Mustang sold for charity a few years back.

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Still, our best indication here is definitely the release of the Continental Concept and the buzz that surrounded the return of proper names at Lincoln – especially with the Chinese market in mind. Even though it did not remain in production for too long, the Aviator surely enjoys good recognition and a good lasting impression on the market – its latest use, on the concept car previewing the first-generation MKX, was it is true on a smaller vehicle but it could definitely once again act as the Navigator’s sidekick.

On the topic of rumours though, the Detroit Free Press reports some less likely developments. According to the newspaper, “analysts” suggest Lincoln could receive a Mustang-based halo car for the 2017 model year (which is basically right around the corner already), a new compact sedan for 2018 (which is most likely to be the next generation MKZ, expected in 2019 on the modular D6 platform) and an Explorer-based crossover for 2019.

As such, the part of “2020 Vision” that is allocated to Lincoln is busy enough alright, and I think we will between now and 2021 see Lincoln revamp the core of its line-up, with solid offerings in hot segments, with halo cars and such pushed back if anything for the next corporate plan. Also, The Truth About Cars speculates that this new Aviator could be the first model to signal the return to “legacy names”, but cross-referencing rumours generally puts the incoming crossover towards 2018/2019, while the Continental is expected in 2016/2017. Plus, the Continental would undoubtedly make a bigger splash in the market by being the first one to underline Lincoln’s change of attitude.

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