DETROIT -- Ford's flagship Blue Oval brand had its moment in the limelight Monday to kick off the North American International Auto Show, but the company's Lincoln brand is overdue for its return to the center stage of the auto industry. 

As a result, Ford CEO Alan Mulally and team has made reinvigorating the Lincoln luxury brand a top priority, committing to dealers that the company will use cutting-edge products to make the brand competitive with the likes of Toyota's Lexus. Ford used product for its flagship brand to turn the overall company's fortunes around and it aims to use the same attack to rejuvinate Lincoln.

Thus, Lincoln revealed on Tuesday at the second day of the Detroit auto show the new Lincoln MKZ concept. 

Lincoln is an important part of our company's success, said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company president of The Americas. The luxury piece of the industry is significant. In any given year in the U.S., the luxury segment is 11 to 13 percent of overall sales, and it is important for us to win customers in the luxury market with strong new vehicles. That is a key reason we have invested so heavily in Lincoln. 

And while the MKZ revealed was clearly designated a concept vehicle, the company said it provides a strong hint of what is to come in the production version of the next-generation MKZ.

With the Lincoln MKZ Concept, we are not introducing a new car. We are essentially introducing a new brand, said Derrick Kuzak, Ford Motor Company group vice president for Global Product Development. The MKZ Concept is the next step in the reinvention of Lincoln, something we've been quietly but aggressively pursuing.

Ford marketing vice president Jim Farley, who previously worked for Toyota before joining Ford as a key player in the company's revival, said the MKZ concept is the next step in our reinvention. 

For Lincoln to succeed with today's luxury clients, we need to reinvent every part of the ownership experience.

Ford's plans for Lincoln include more than well-designed and enginneered luxury product, Farley said. The brand plans to up the ante with a more customized personal service at its Lincoln dealerships, which have been asked to invest in upgrading facilities and overall grade. Lincoln hopes to grow to 800,000 units sold annually, as a formidable foe with other luxury brands including BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus. 

Farley said Lincoln knows its customer -- they don't eat at chain restaurants, and they stay at boutique hotels, he said -- and hopes to reach out and touch those personal tastes and wants with a catered luxury Lincoln brand. But the company won't get there without unique, highly-stylized and functionally engineered product, however.

That's where Lincoln's revealed MKZ concept plays a big role. It's not the far-out concept that will never reach production, company officials suggested. Rather, it's a strong flavor of what is to come -- abmition of refined, if not restrained elegance. 

The MKZ Concept's shape is a vision of simplicity completed with just a few strokes, said Max Wolff, Lincoln design director. Our movement as a brand is toward something we call elegant simplicity. It's something warmer and more restrained, which is moving away from complex designs and traditional luxury.