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Lincoln, Not Cadillac, Is Detroit's Surprise Luxury Hit

The 2013 Lincoln MKZ
The 2013 Lincoln MKZCourtesy Ford Motor Company

“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.