AP Auto Writer
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford's luxury Lincoln brand spent most of this year reintroducing itself to American buyers. Now, it's taking on Lexus in a new bid to get noticed.
In a series of television ads that debut Wednesday and run for the rest of this year, young couples "interview" a Lincoln MKZ and a Lexus ES, pointing out features the MKZ has that the ES doesn't.
"Which of you is the most fuel-efficient luxury hybrid in America?" one man asks.
"I am," says a sign above the Lincoln. "No comment," says a sign above the Lexus. The MKZ hybrid gets an estimated 45 miles per gallon on the highway, while the ES gets 39 mpg.
It's a new strategy for Lincoln, which is trying to get back on buyers' shopping lists after decades of declining sales. Previous ads reintroduced the brand using Abraham Lincoln or focused on the brand's promise of personalized service. A Super Bowl ad used comedian Jimmy Fallon to appeal to younger buyers. But the latest ads are the first to go head-to-head with Lincoln's biggest competitor.
Lexus had no comment on the Lincoln campaign.
Andrew Frick, Lincoln's group marketing manager, said Lincoln is targeting Lexus because Lexus ES and Toyota Prius owners are among the most likely to trade in for a new MKZ.
The midsize MKZ, which went on sale in the spring, is already changing opinions about the brand, Frick said. It just surpassed the Navigator SUV as Lincoln's best-known vehicle.
Frick says the MKZ is also attracting younger, more affluent buyers. The average age of an MKZ hybrid buyer is now 57, down from 61 with the previous model. The average household income of buyers has jumped by $20,000 to $122,000.
And Lincoln's Date Nights, which invite customers to drive an MKZ for 48 hours and enjoy a free meal at a restaurant, have been a success. The company expects 1,000 Date Night participants will buy Lincolns by the end of this year.
But Lincoln still has a long way to go. Car buying site Edmunds.com says only about 1 percent of people searching its site are considering Lincolns -- a number that didn't change even after the MKZ went on sale. That compares with 4 percent for Lexus and 6 percent for BMW.
And while the MKZ's U.S. sales are up 1 percent to 23,775 through September compared with last year, Lexus ES sales are more than double that.
"Lincoln is getting a really late start, and this is going to be a really slow, long journey," said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.