The death of Mercury has been the subject of media attention for the past several years, intensifying at the end of May with rumors Ford was preparing to make a final decision about the end of Mercury. Ford finally put the rumors to rest-production of Mercury automobiles will end in the fourth quarter of 2010. According to Ford, Mercury’s customer profile was identical to that of Ford’s customers. While Ford’s customer share has grown over the past few years, Mercury has remained flat. With a total market share of 16%, Ford claims Mercury sales account for only 0.8% of the total, with the bulk of sales going to fleets.
That is Ford’s take on their decision to axe Mercury. While I don’t disagree with the picture Ford paints of Mercury in 2010, the reality is Ford made it so. For decades, a Mercury has been nothing more than a Ford clone with different grilles and lights, maybe a few extra standard features. That practice was acceptable for a long time, but eventually the consumer wised up. With no unique models, and little effort to differentiate itself from Ford, Mercury as a brand lost definition to the buying public, who in turn, simply lost interest.
It is a well-known fact that The Garage enjoys a solid following from employees of car dealers. Although Mercury has been absent from Canada for years now, it should be noted that there are no stand-alone Mercury dealers in the US. In fact, there are only 276 Lincoln-Mercury dealers here, and Ford insists they are working with those dealers to see if they can survive as Lincoln dealers, or pair them with a nearby Ford dealership. Ford has not announced any dealer closings, and it is an encouraging sign that Ford appears willing to help its existing dealer network during this transition.
So, Mercury is Going. Who Benefits?
According to Ford, Lincoln will be the beneficiary. While so little money has been spent on Mercury, those funds will hardly account for what Ford’s plans are with Lincoln. It’s called spin, dear readers-Ford’s press release was 90% about Lincoln, and 10% about killing off a 70 year old brand. Over the next four years, Ford is promising seven all-new, or major refreshed Lincoln models. The goal? To finally take the fight to Cadillac and Lexus. Even as GM struggled over the past decade, there is no denying that Cadillac is the only domestic luxury brand that truly takes the fight to premium imports.
As Cadillac has surged, Lincoln seemed to stagnate, or seem unsure of what type of buyer they wanted. Ford claims the groundwork is being laid with the current line. The Lincoln MKS EcoBoost we reviewed was a fine car, and shows that Lincoln is on the right track. In the future, we can expect Lincoln-exclusive engines, EcoBoost engines offered in all models, with an overall emphasis on offering fuel efficient engines in the premium market. On the retail front, Lincoln aims to seriously step up its level of service to meet that of its competition.
In the recent government-backed bail-outs of General Motors and Chrysler, Ford has won more than a few fans for saying “no thanks” to taxpayer money, but to date only the Ford brand has been the beneficiary. With no plan in hand, Mercury simply had to be cut. Given the intense focus (no pun intended) of Ford, it is a mystery why they have not been able to elevate Lincoln to higher ground, but I will take the killing of Mercury as a sign of hope for Ford’s only other remaining brand. Surely, you can build a nice rear-wheel drive sport sedan with that new 5.0L V-8 from the Mustang, right?