“Cadillac is back,” crowed Bob Ferguson, the executive in charge of GM’s luxury marque, in announcing yesterday that sales were up 40 percent over last May. Cadillac’s year-to-date sales are up an impressive 38 percent, the biggest increase since 1976. Much of this is driven by Cadillac’s new entry-level ATS, which won Car of the Year at the 2013 Detroit auto show; 70 percent of those buying the ATS are first-time Cadillac customers. All of this has been greeted in Detroit as welcome news that one American carmaker, at least, has rediscovered how, after decades of missteps, to make a luxury car that gets American hearts racing.
Look a little closer, though, and it appears that carmaker isn’t GM, but its rival Ford, maker of the unheralded Lincoln—a brand with an aesthetic that remains a work in progress and an inscrutable ad campaign (featuring, in one commercial, an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln). Last month, the MKZ, Lincoln’s own midsize entry-level luxury sedan, narrowly outsold the ATS, even though Ford offered far less in sales incentives. According to Edmunds data, the average ATS buyer was offered almost $4,000 all told to sign, more than twice what MKZ buyers required.