PASO ROBLES -- Lincoln executives see the 2002 Blackwood, a high-priced hybrid of sport-utility and pickup, as the next step on the road to recovery and reinvention for one of the most respected names in American automaking. ``The Lincoln
Blackwood is really the next vehicle in the total transformation of the Lincoln brand,'' said Jim O'Sullivan, the Lincoln group brand manager. And while there's no doubt that the Navigator sport-utility, the LS sports sedan and now the Blackwood
sport-utility truck have moved Lincoln away from its crusty image -- and attracted younger buyers who hadn't owned a Lincoln before -- there's a question of momentum. So far in 2001, the bad news is that Lincoln sales are down 16.5 percent. The
worse news is that its contemporary products (Navigator and LS) have seen steeper drops than its traditional products (the Continental and Town Car sedans). The worst news might be that the sales of Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Acura continue to
rise. (For the record, through May, sales of Lincoln's long-time and most direct rival, General Motors' Cadillac division, are down 23.9 percent.) One auto analyst, Wes Brown of NexTrend, said Lincoln needs more new products, but that they
won't get them for another year or so. That's when a smaller sport-utility based on the Explorer (some call it a baby Navigator) and a revised Town Car arrive. But the brand also needs a true cross-over sport-utility, like an Acura MDX, and a sports car
to create a halo effect to better compete with its rivals. ``They need a volume product,'' Brown said. ``Something for LS owners to move in to.'' The new Blackwood, arriving in showrooms now, certainly isn't that type of high-volume
vehicle. Lincoln intends to sell 6,000 in the rest of 2001 and about 10,000 in 2002. The price -- $52,500, including destination charge -- makes it both the most expensive production pickup on the market, and assures its place in the world of
luxury vehicles. O'Sullivan calls it ``a niche product.'' Jim Rogers, Lincoln's general marketing manager, said potential Blackwood buyers will ``want something that stands out on the road, that has real road presence, that is different
than anything else on the road and makes a statement when you arrive.'' In terms of impact, Rogers said he hopes the Blackwood does for Lincoln what the Viper did for Dodge and the TT did for Audi. All agree that buyers won't be basic
truck buyers. Rogers said the Blackwood will appeal to professional athletes, Hollywood types and architects. They won't use the Blackwood for heavy or dirty jobs. They won't carry cement, Rogers said. They won't carry manure, O'Sullivan said.
The truck part of the Blackwood features an electronic hard tonneau cover that opens and closes with a push of a button on the key fob. It opens to a height of 6 feet, 8 inches and isn't removable. What it cover
s is a 16-inch deep, 49-inch wide, 56-inch long bed. That load space is carpeted, lit with twin LED strip lights along the bottom sides of the bed, has several neat storage bins and opens out the back with swinging Dutch doors. The front part of
the Blackwood is a near replica of the Navigator sport-ute, which means it's spacious with four captain's chairs and tons of storage spots. It matches the truck's outside with black Connolly leather and dark-stained oak trim. The Blackwood name
comes from its distinctive side and rear body panels, which appear to be made of a very dark wood. (African Wenge wood was used on the concept version of Blackwood. On the production model, the company uses a photographic laminate.) Just like Henry Ford's
Model T, the Blackwood will come in any color as long as it's black. The huge grille, huge (18-inch) wheels and the chrome gas-tank door are other notable exterior design cues. Power comes from a 5.4-liter, 300-horse
wer V-8. The Blackwood weighs 5,700 pounds, and has a maximum towing capacity of 8,700 pounds. A four-speed automatic is the only transmission choice. There is no four-wheel-drive version offered -- yet. In fact, a $2,000 navigation system
is the only option. ``The philosophy of this vehicle is that people want one with everything,'' said Henry Brice, the vehicle's chief program engineer. Despite a slowdown in sales of full-size SUVs, including its own Navigator as well as
Ford's Expedition and Excursion, Lincoln sees growth for vehicles like the Blackwood. ``Customers in this segment are looking for things that are different, that are new,'' said Lisa Bacus, the brand manager for the Blackwood and Navigator.
``They want what's the latest and the greatest. They want almost a hybrid vehicle -- vehicles that deliver functionality and versatility and vehicles that deliver a great quality of life.'' Analyst Brown expects the Blackwood to be a hit -- for at
least 18 months to two years. ``It's a novelty,'' he said. ``In this day and age, consumers want something unique.'' Personally, ``I think it looks pretty cool,'' he said. But, he added, ``some might find it hideous.'' Cadillac
will start selling a similar product, the Escalade EXT, later this year. The only other full-size SUT on the market right now is the Chevrolet Avalanche.