When Lincoln launched its 2011 MKZ Hybrid model at the New York Auto Show last spring, the car was less remarkable than its price of $35,180.
The number was a surprise because it was the same price as the only other engine option for the MKZ, a 3.5-liter V-6. So what do we know about the two models' sales since the Hybrid's October launch?
According to Ford, the MKZ Hybrid is outselling the company's internal projections. With more than one in five 2011 MKZ models leaving dealership lots with the hybrid option, that's a substantial rise on Lincoln's internal projections of 15 percent of the total.
To provide a little perspective, total sales of all hybrid models represent only 2 to 3 percent of the overall U.S. new-vehicle market.
The 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is the only hybrid in Lincoln's lineup, and uses the same specially-tuned 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and twin motor-generator hybrid system as on Ford's other hybrid models, the 2011 Fusion Hybrid sedan and 2011 Escape Hybrid crossover.
The hybrid MKZ, which is offered only as a front-wheel-drive model, is rated by the EPA 41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 39 mpg.
By contrast, the non-hybrid MKZ returns 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 21 mpg in front-wheel-drive form.
That, folks, is a 90-percent improvement, substantial even for luxury-car buyers who don't need to economize on gasoline.
Those ratings are the same as the now-discontinued 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid, which was effectively replaced by the MKZ Hybrid in Ford's overall lineup.
Adding all-wheel-drive to the V-6 MKZ penalizes its mileage even further, with rankings of only 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and a combined 19-mpg rating.
Lincoln says San Diego dealer Ed Witt has sold MKZ Hybrid models to former owners of Toyota Prius hybrids, Lexus luxury cars, and even a few BMW owners.
His dealership has sold more MKZ Hybrids than any other U.S. dealer, reflecting Californian buyers' greater interest in green cars--and the state's higher average gasoline prices.
Reflecting the impact of Lincoln's innovative pricing strategy, General Motors announced that its 2012 Buick Lacrosse with eAssist would be offered at the same base price as the 2012 Lacrosse model with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine. The MKZ and Lacrosse are arguably competitors in the midsize near-luxury sedan market.
Specific prices on the 2012 Lacrosse line won't be released until later this year, but both are expected to start "around $30,000," according to GM executives.