Mercury: Lost Cause?

By Automotive Staff | June 30, 2008
Public pronouncements are one thing, but backing up one’s words with actions is where the pedal meets the metal, metaphorically speaking. In the case of Ford’s Waterfall Grille Division — yes, that would be Mercury — you have Ford’s President of the Americas Mark Fields saying all the right things before the microphones and cameras: "It is an important part of the stable of brands,” quoth he, in reassuring tones, about the Mercury marque at an event recently held in Detroit to promote the new Lincoln MKS. Important, eh? So important that there is no discernible plan for any new Mercury models past the 2010 refresh of the Mercury Milan and introduction of the Milan Hybrid? Ford has made much of its forthcoming offerings for the Blue Oval—bringing many of its European models to North American shores for the first time—and even some news about upcoming Lincolns, but Mercury? I can hear the crickets chirping… because otherwise, there’s dead silence. Face it, if Mercury were a racehorse, it would be limping off the track and heading in back of the stables, there to be dispatched with a bullet between the eyes. But it doesn’t have to end this way. Years ago, Mercury had variants of many of Ford’s models, not just the large ones. Why not, as Forbe’s Jerry Flint recently proposed, make a Mercury variant of the new Ford Fiesta? Or the Euro-Ford Focus that will hit these shores come 2010? After all, when Mercury made the compact Tracer, a variant of the Ford Escort in the mid-1990s, Tracers made up 10%–15% of all combined Escort-Tracer sales.
Bean counters will counter the keep-Mercury argument with, “Because Ford’s losing money, and they need to plow more money into developing good product for their existing brands.” Fair enough—and, yes, Ford does need good product across all of their brands—but why kill Mercury? After all, it doesn’t cost that much to make a Mercury into something different than a Ford. Yes, they need to do a better job in differentiating the product so that it doesn’t look just like a Ford with a new grille applied (something more along the lines of the Ford Edge vs. Lincoln MKX would be better). But there are some Mercury buyers who buy Mercury simply because they like the styling better than the original Ford model, and if Mercury ceased to exist, they wouldn’t buy the Ford product in the first place. Hello, Honda (or Saturn or Buick or Toyota or Volvo or whomever…) The signs don’t look good for Mercury. They didn’t get a version of the two new Ford crossovers—the Edge or the Flex. Lincoln got their version of the Edge, as mentioned above, and the Flex is rumored to be coming to Lincoln in the form of a future MKT. Meanwhile, crickets are chirping and silence abounds whenever Mercury variants of those cars are mentioned. Flint recently floated the idea of making a new Cougar variant of the Mustang. After all, in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Cougar had some very different styling takes on the Mustang chassis, and it found a bevy of buyers back then. Maybe Ford is happy to give up its Mercury customers if it folds the brand. (After all, it dropped Mercury from Canada in 2000, and except for the few die-hard Mercury fans that go through the hassle of importing vehicles from the U.S., it didn’t seem to affect the Blue Oval that much, aside from paying off the much-smaller Mercury dealer network up there.) But there are some people out there who would seriously mourn the passing of the Sign of the Cat, as a 1970s advertising tagline once proclaimed. As Jerry Flint lamented, “Maybe it is a lost cause, but it is still hard to believe that they have to burn down the company to save it.”