Ford's New High-End Hybrid Goes Head-to-Head With Lexus

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

With the launch of the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid at the New York International Auto Show today, Ford (F) has joined the battle among high-end, high miles-per-gallon cars and SUVs.

The market is already occupied by the likes of Lexus and Mercedes. Ford's entry comes at a time when it's unclear how may consumers want hybrids, particularly at the high end of the market where they're likely to be less affected by gas prices than buyers of cheaper cars.

Confusion About Claims?

Carmakers offering fuel-efficient models use technologies as disparate as clean diesel, alternative-fuel engines and battery-powered hybrids. Ford's new offering is a cousin of the gas-powered MKZ. The carmaker claims the hybrid will be the most fuel-efficient midsize luxury sedan in the U.S. and should get 41 MPG in city driving.

It's hard to distinguish how the MPG figure compares to that of small and large luxury sedans. Consumers may not make the same fine distinctions in model categories as carmakers do, which will probably cause some confusion about the claims. Ford says the MKZ Hybrid's fuel efficiency tops that of the 2010 Lexus HS 250h. But whether Lexus would agree is unclear.

One thing is certain: The luxury hybrid car market is getting crowded, and carmakers are hoping their claims give them a needed edge.