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Ford CEO: Luxury Market Has Room For Lincoln

By DEE-ANN DURBIN and TOM KRISHER

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) â¿¿ Ford thinks the luxury car market is missing something.

Luxury buyers sobered up during the recession, the company reckons, and they now find German brands to pricey, Cadillac too showy and Japanese brands too boring. Ford hopes its Lincoln brand will fill a hole: premium but moderately-priced, elegant but not ostentatious, sporty but smooth.

"There's a whole market that's not served," Ford CEO Alan Mulally told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "I was just driving a $98,000 (competitor's) car yesterday. A $98,000 car. Well, we're not going after them."

Lincoln is in the midst of a revamp that will see four new models over the next four years. The first, the MKZ midsize sedan, arrived in showrooms in December. It starts at just under $36,000 â¿¿ a little less than its closest competitor, the Lexus ES â¿¿ but offers some premium features the Lexus doesn't, like a panoramic glass roof.

Lincoln will give a glimpse of its next product at the Detroit auto show this week. The MKC small SUV is critical, since it will compete in the fastest-growing segment in the luxury industry. Sales of other small luxury SUVs, like the BMW X3 and the Acura RDX, saw big jumps last year as younger buyers entered the market and older buyers traded down from larger SUVs.

The MKC concept hints at what will hit showrooms by the end of this year. It shares the MKZ's panoramic roof and spare, highly sculpted lines. But it has a more dramatic grille thanks to the use of two shades of metal and a trunk that's cut to allow one long, thin, uninterrupted taillight on the rear. There are touches like shiny wood flecked with silver flakes and Lincoln logos stitched into the seats and floor mats.

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