Ford Motor Co.’s storied Lincoln division, which once ruled the luxury vehicle segment before heated competition and a lack of investment led to limited sales, is on the comeback trail.

The upscale nameplate recently hired General Motors global alumnus Max Wolff as director of design — Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally wants to take the brand international — and has instilled a startup culture with other recent hires.

Like other companies striving to regain the spotlight, the automaker has switched its marketing gears. Instead of continuously pushing its message out to consumers, it’s inviting them to step beyond the velvet rope, so Ford can gain their insight.

“It’s all about engaging the consumer instead of assuming a team of designers in a studio has all the answers,” says Kevin Smith, principal of 360 Brand Machine in Troy. The longtime ad executive and his partner, Cathy Condit, are helping Lincoln revive its mojo through a process called crowd sourcing.

At the most recent Concours d’Elegance at the famed Pebble Beach golf course in California, Lincoln set up a chalet on the 18th fairway and outfitted it with iPads loaded with photos and information about popular models like the 1961 Continental, which featured split doors. A team of customer representatives helped guide 100-plus visitors through the process of selecting modern versions of the classic cars.

“It’s really a computer software platform where you can design a car with consumers,” Condit says. “From that process, we’ll consolidate the data and tap a smaller group of consumers to refine the choices. The goal is to involve consumers in the entire design process, rather than at the end.” —R.J. King

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