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Lincoln’s debut of the Nautilus, the crossover formerly known as the MKX, at the LA Auto Show this week brought along with it yet another change in the company’s naming scheme, part of a gradual rebranding effort. The automaker started formally calling itself Lincoln Motor Company five years ago, and it has also brought back the Continental nameplate, dormant since 2002. 

The Nautilus name did not come as a complete surprise: Since the 1980s, Lincoln marketing had been saturated with sailing and nautical themes, demonstrated by several special-edition models tied to the America’s Cup and other races. The name Nautilus, then, was perhaps overdue.

Lincoln boss Kumar Galhotra confirmed that MK prefixes are on their way out, after a little over a decade of confusing consumers. The changeover will be complete within the next two years, he added.

The MK names themselves were a relatively recent trend that dates back 11 years. In this naming scheme, the midsize Zephyr sedan was renamed the MKZ, which Lincoln alternatively pitched as Mark-Zee or Em-Kay-Zee, while a large sedan that debuted in 2008 bore the MKS nameplate. Two additional crossovers landed earlier in this decade, including the aforementioned MKX and the smaller MKC compact crossover. The Navigator was the sole model that kept its name from the 1990s.

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In the recent past the automaker sought to offer “Classic Lincoln style and performance in a nautical theme,” courting associations with sailing.

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One of the problems with this approach was that consumers used to nameplates like Town Car had trouble keeping MKS, MKT, MKX and MKC apart. It helped that MKS ended with S, to suggest a sedan of some sort, while the last letter in MKT stood for Touring. But that was about all the mnemonic help that this naming scheme provided. It was also problematic that, as with Cadillac, the letters had a very weak connection to what the cars actually were, how much they cost, and what rung they occupied in the lineup. It also didn’t help that early on Lincoln executives pronounced these names as Mark Ex and Mark Ess, to mirror the example set by the Mark LT model, though this was quickly dropped. The only bright spot in this effort was that the letters were not followed by various numbers, in the German alphanumeric naming tradition Cadillac has co-opted.

The outgoing 2006-era Lincoln naming system closely followed Cadillac’s own switch to a (pardon this next phrase) three-letter system, which debuted with the CTS in 2003. Cadillac quickly changed the entire lineup to this new three-letter convention with the exception of the Escalade, which kept its name like the Navigator.

But Lincoln’s latest change in naming strategy also differs from Cadillac’s most-recent change, which was inaugurated by Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen in 2014. Cadillac’s recent rebranding tweaked the corporate design language and introduced a naming scheme with the CT prefix, denoting Cadillac Touring, followed by a number. Cadillac’s new naming convention keeps the three-character formula, with the last number corresponding (vaguely) to the model’s size. In this manner a new large sedan adopted the CT6 name, denoting Cadillac Touring 6, while the replacement of the midsize SRX crossover adopted the XT5 name, denoting Crossover Touring 5.

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Expect to see more nautical names in Lincoln lineup; the MKC and the MKZ are due for new names.

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Needless to say, Cadillac’s naming scheme requires some knowledge of what’s going in the lineup, and the numbers denoting the size of the model are not particularly helpful absent knowledge of this system. For instance, the XT5 also seats five people, but the CT6 certainly does not seat six people. The XT5 also appears larger than the CT6 on the inside simply because it’s a crossover, so the numbering is not particularly helpful in this case. The Escalade, a valuable brand name in itself for two decades, is exempted from Cadillac’s new naming scheme.   

Lincoln’s latest rebranding effort shows plenty of promise aside from rescuing the company from badging doldrums. Company president Galhotra is intent on overhauling the entire brand experience while also pushing the Black Label concierge services and exclusive design themes into the spotlight. Black Label is very much a part of the rebranded Lincoln and is constantly experimenting with new customer-service programs focused on luxury experiences and travel convenience.

What’s next for Lincoln? More models than the six that the company currently offers, as Galhotra indicated at the LA auto show this week. The company won’t be chasing every segment, but there are still a few niches filled by other luxury brands that Lincoln will have to address.

Expect to see more nautical themes: The MKC and the MKZ are next in line for new names.

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