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Mercury Is Ford's Million Dollar Baby

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If you're fishing around for metaphors to describe Ford's predicament with Mercury, you don't need to look much further than Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby.

It's probably spoiler-safe now to point out now, three years after it took Best Picture, that after some low-level glory, Baby's heroine Hilary Swank suffers a paralyzing blow and instead of passing mercifully, lingers on in a hellish kind of limbo. That's where Mercury is too, waiting for some humane relief, even though Ford's been saying that it supports the Mercury brand, but doesn't promise any new products.

We've been here before--and there have been more convincing efforts at saving divisions. Remember Oldsmobile? It got an Aurora and multivalve-V-6 Intrigue before GM threw its hands up in surrender. Plymouth? Okay, not such an intense effort, but the Prowler and PT Cruiser should count for something.

It's not for lack of opportunity that Mercury's become so...vestigial. Ford's European Focus and Mondeo would have been great Mercs. How about a domestic-badged Miata and CX-9? That hybrid Milan? How about one truly distinct Mercury that has a decent shot at selling 100,000 units a year--put your hands down if you were going to bring up the cool Cougar?

A long time ago, there was a positioning out there. Mercury--the name means light and quick on its feet, after all--could have been the Ford brand that adopted a range of Mazda products all its own, added some hybrid models, and kept the lineup strictly to vehicles that sent out a greener, more import-friendly image than a traditional Ford or Lincoln would have. And maybe that was the plan, before the financial implosion that came in 2006.

A Mercury lineup flush with a great sportscar, a stylish mid-size sedan, a clever crossover and a truly world-class econobox would probably have some real legs. But it's too late now, probably. Saturn's done about as much to make Mercury inconsequential as Ford has, what with the Aura, Astra, Sky and Outlook. GM got it right.

Meanwhile, Mercury's starved for air. Our sources say that it's not a matter of whether Ford will keep the big rear-drive Grand Marquis alive after 2010 - it's a matter of whether the factory in Canada that builds the Marquis, the Lincoln Town Car and the Ford Crown Vic will even stay open through 2009. Lincoln's getting a new range-topper, but it's going to be spun from the MKS platform--which means no rear-drive, which means the financial case for the Grand Marquis goes away.

As for a replacement of the front- or four-wheel-drive persuasion, forget it. A representative from another manufacturer noted correctly that nobody made much of Alan Mulally's recent remarks that there would be a new Taurus. "He didn't say there would be a new Sable," the clever observer correctly noted.

Milan? How about just Fusion and MKZ? Mariner? Anyone? Bueller?

Sometimes, the most humane thing to do is to shut off the oxygen.


Tell us what you think Mercury needs in its lineup to survive--or if Ford should pull the plug sooner rather than later.
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Comments (32)
  1. I think if Ford got creative,they could easily create a unique lineup from things that already exist in its portfolio for a minimum outlay. I'd do a compact vehicle and a small crossover off of the Mazda 3/S40 platform and use the 2.3 turbo from mazdaspeed in a detuned version and a diesel that fits on that platform from europe as motivation for both. It'd be nice to spread in a little bit of customization for it too given the huge partsbin for 3 and S40. I say keep milan and use the platform to engineer the only U.S spec mazda 6 platform based coupe and aim it at the sweet spot of the market that would be better looking and more sporty than accord and solara but more upscale, roomy and refined than mustang and altima. I'd also be sure to offer a 6-speed manual as well as AWD on the coupe making it the only coupe around under 30k you could find with AWD to give it a bit of uniqueness in the market. Milan needs more differentiation to justify it's higher price so why not a new dash and bolt on a supercharger to put it in between Fusion and MKZ in terms of hp? Then drop Mountaineer in its current state and use CX-9 as a basis for a new Mountaineer crossover. This way, Ford wouldn't have to commit to anything in terms of Euro-Fords which with the current state of the Dollar/Euro exchange rate would be crazy expensive after it got here....however, I'd like to know how GM makes a sound financial case for all of Saturn with the Astra.
     
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  2. I totally agree with all things said in your article/blog. As a lover of Mercury's and the owner of a 2000 Mystique (I know, I know "baaaad moniker"), I like the added features that Mercury offers as a step up from a Ford. In addition to the Mazda (CX7 could be a cool spinoff) and Ford Europe choices mentioned, I'd also like to point out that the Aussie Fords are pretty hot, also. They are very much geared to the American Machismo, and the Falcon range (including its "Ranchero") would be great competition for the Upcoming Pontiac G8 range.
    Sincerely,
    Jeff Cox
     
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  3. Open letter to Ford: Pull the plug
     
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  4. A few comments on this:

    - You say "GM got it right" with Saturn. Did they? The product now is great, no doubt. But when Chevy got the Malibu - what happened to the Aura? Out of sight, out of mind. When Buick got the Enclave and Chevy gets the Traverse - what happened to the Outlook? Out of sight, out of mind. Is it better to make one really nice car and pour all your marketing dollars on it, or make the same car 2, 3, or even 4 times and not have enough marketing dollars to spread around? This is GM's problem, and it's the reason, IMHO, that Ford should let Mercury go.

    - I think it's obvious what Mullaly is doing. He's pouring tons of product money into Lincoln so that Lincoln becomes the paying brand for the Lincoln-Mercury dealers. Once a dealer can be profitable as just a Lincoln dealer, he's going to slowly kill off Mercury. That way he gets less trouble from the dealers. I think this is a smart move to avoid the trouble GM had with Olds.

    For too long, Detroit has had too many brands. Forget putting new product into Mercury - put the money into Ford and Lincoln and make them world class. Let Mercury limp along for the LM dealers until Lincoln is back on its feet. Then hold a nice wake.
     
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  5. Ford already shut the air off (no real new product) a number of years ago.... but forgot to tell the patient. Mercury hasn't been sold here in Canada since 2000 or so. It's long been time to let it go in the States too. The brand is irrelevant.
     
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  6. Ford has to hurry. The Camaro is around the corner. They have to make a notchback Mustang and call it a Cougar. It can't cost that much to do.
     
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  7. I was very disappointed to read that Ford is thinking of pulling the plug on Mercury division. Why can't FORD do what GM did? Find a feasible way to bring the European Mondeo as a mercury. Grab the CX-7 or CX-9 and rebadge them into nice Mercury brands. I think these steps could be taken very inexpensively and FORD won't have to spend Billions in R&D costs to develope new platforms. I'm not saying just rebadge Mazda cars but put some effort into giving those cars a distinct Mercury "feel" and personality, while making the leap into next level in terms of quality and realiability. Bottom line is: FORD has good products to choose from. The question is, are they willing/capable of turning the division around?
     
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  8. Remember the Pantera, Capri, Merkurs?
    With Ford, outside of the US, making money, how about bringing some of the European and Austrailian cars here and have Mercury be the "Ford of the World" dealer.
    I'd sure like the opportunity to consider the Fairlane, S-Maxx and the Mondeo when my current lease is up.
     
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  9. Ford makes the Euro-Focus, Mondeo, and S-Max in China. I'm sure the exchange rate is favorable enough to make a business case for bringing them here as Mercurys.
     
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  10. Still love (and drive) my Mercury Capri convertible. 150,000 trouble-free, sunny miles.. and counting. Also, I have fond memories of my sister's car, a 1974 Capri from Germany. The new Mondeo, current European Fusion, and even the Ka would make excellent current Mercury products. I also agree that some of the Mazda crossovers could be rebadged as Mercury items. Instead, Mercury gets a few warmed-over Fords. Dullsville. Come on, Ford, get it together.
     
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  11. I agree with John's comments.

    I would also add that Mullaly pulled the Taurus name out of pasture too soon. It was clear then and more so now that he should have waited to put it on a new, world class product. Instead, it is tainted once more with its sedate looking underpinnings.

    And one more thing Ford, stop pasting the three bar grill on all your products. Rcall that the best selling vehicles in Ford's recent history do not look alike (Mustang, F-150, Taurus). Uniqueness, and not sameness, is what stirs people's emotions to buy.
     
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  12. Apart from the many good "blogging" reasons to bolster the Mercury line-up, Ford must carefully consider the following: (1) The franchise is at stake - there is no reasonable way that Lincoln volume can pick up enough units/revenue to replace Mercury - so the franchise would suffer, which, in turn, would hurt Lincoln volume. (2) Is Ford ready to invest roughly a Billion Dollars that it probably would cost? Ask GM about how much the Olds curtailment cost the corporation, in the end. (3) Unlike GM, Ford does not have too many brands. To drop out of the medium price segment would be an immediate loss (further) of market share, which is not tolerable, now or any time. (4) With new platform acumen and technology, there is nothing wrong with "big brother" products that a done right -- the Japanse do it all the time.
    (this is from a past L-M General Manager)
     
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  13. The problem is this: from the later '50s onward, the Big Three pushed their premium brands downmarket in pursuit of sales volume, to the point that by the '80s there wasn't more than a hair's breadth of difference between a Ford and a Mercury and barely more than that to a Lincoln.

    Today, Volvo occupies the Mercury wavelength in the Ford product spectrum.

    One could get a migraine reviewing Ford's three decades of efforts at getting anyone not on life support into a L-M showroom, from the original Capri and the Pantera (the dozen L-M salesmen in the country who still knew how to drive a manual transmission had a blast, everyone else was scared crapless) to the feckless Merkurs to the Fox Mustang-based Capri to the chunky, wrong-wheel-drive Aussie Capri. The Sable of course sold exceptionally well for years, kept the showrooms afloat, but Ford let the platform get stale in the early '90s then destroyed it with the 1996 tuna-car.

    The Lincoln LS is easily the best car Ford's ever built in the US, but it went to market neutered by the need to keep it 'under' the comparable Jaguar and in the end it was just too good a car to sell under a brand that's come to mean 'airport taxi'.

    I'd love to see an Australian Falcon in this country, it's really the only truly special car Ford makes anywhere these days. The Euro Ford line is pretty good for what it is, certainly the Fiesta makes the Toyota Yaris look like a pile of elephant incontinence. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for Ford to get anything right.
     
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  14. Toyota has Lexus. Nissan has Infiniti. Honda has Acura. Mercedes has Maybach. Ford has Lincoln -- and no need for Mercury. There's a reason the world's most respected automakers limit themselves to a two-tier marketing strategy. Heck, even Dodge has Chrysler (with Jeep thrown in as a bonus). As for GM, when you figure that one out let me know!
     
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  15. GM did it with Opel cars - seems odd that Ford can't count on international divisions to 're-brand' Mercury - spent some time in my brother-in-law's Mondeo last weekend - smooth as silk and he gets 40+ mpg with his quiet diesel.

    I believe the best saying for this circumstance is: Sh*t or get off the pot!
     
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  16. FORD, GET RIGHT WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND HE WILL BLESS YOUR COMPANY WITH MORE SALES THAN YOU CAN KEEP UP WITH.
     
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  17. With the US dollar heading south against the Euro and even the Oz dollar.......plus the parlous state of Ford in some markets (eg Australia) I think US consumers can forget seeing any Euro & Oz Fords coming in under the Mercury (or any other Ford) brand.

    Unless Detroit decides to build Euro style Fords in the US.......that'll happen but no time soon.

    The Australian Falcon is what you would call an endangered species. The new model is being released very very soon into a market that has sacked the existing version in the last 18 months.....sales are down 20% or so. And whilst the new model Falcon was designed for international sales, Ford US has said 'not interested' so there are stuff all exports........so potential volumes are tiny and close to break even only. The Oz motoring press has given the new model three to six months to prove itself a local success otherwise, they suggest, Dearborn will take it out the back in 2009 with a shotgun (no....Ford Oz won't get much of a say) and Ford Oz will turn to building the 4th gen Focus instead.

    It can happen.....the Oz made Mitsubishi 380 large car (a local variant of the American Galant) was put out of its misery last week. Shot in the head from far away Japan.

    Dearborn has equally good aim.....they are just considering the shot at the moment.
     
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  18. Where's the shotgun? Time to put Mercury out of its misery. Yes they could re-engineer ford Europe products, do a deal with Ford in Australia to build a version of the upcoming Orion Falcon in the US but this is Ford, such radical thinking is unlikely. And why the heck would Mazda want to dilute its product raneg by sticking aMercury badge on them? In the end though what does a Mercury stand for? Not quite luxury, not quite sports re badged Ford. Hmms why arn't people flocking to it? Maybe TATA of India might be interested? Or sell the name to some Chinese company!
     
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  19. Like they did in CANADA,FORD'S brains (no brain)will make the dealers die before they react.
    Mercury is dead and FORD will probably follow.Just a matter of time.
     
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  20. You people don't get it. Mercury fills a market niche... and does so with margins for the dealer. The brand is differientiated just enough to attract upmarket buyers who just don't want "another Ford."

    Don't think like a hobbiest or an enthuasiest. Think like a business person. Maybe you'll understand why Mercury lives on.
     
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  21. I think FoMoCo could fairly easily create a Mercury lineup that was distinct, visually shared not too much with Fords or Lincolns (or Volvos or Mazdas for that matter). Here's how I would do it:

    The brand has a sporty, European feel that also serves as the high-tech/eco leader. Styling would generally employ the Euro Ford Kinetic design elements, HID and LED lighting, etc. The brand would generally be positioned against Volkswagen, Saab, Saturn, Acura, BMW, and others.

    Mercury Capri: Euro Focus with 4 door, 2 door coupe (North America only), and the Folding Roof Cabriolet. FWD/AWD. Offer a normally aspirated DI 2.0l 4cyl, a hybrid 4 cyl, and the 240 hp EcoBoost 2.0l 4cyl. Competition: everything from the Jetta/Eos to the 9-3 to the TSX to 1 Series.

    Mercury Mariner: Euro Ford Kuga. Should be on the same platform as the Focus/Capri and offer similar powertrain options. Competition: X3, Tiguan, RDX, Vue.

    Mercury Sable: Euro Mondeo, offering 4 and 5 door variants, and possibly a coupe. FWD and AWD would be offered. Powertrains would include a hybrid DI 2.5l 4cyl, a naturally aspirated 2.5l 4cyl putting out around 250 hp, and the top variant would offer a 3.0l DI 24v V6 pushing 300 hp. Competitors include Passat, TL, A4, 9-5, Aura, 3 series.

    Mercury Scorpio: Mazda CX9 with a Kuga-style front clip. Powertrains could include the DI 2.5l 4cyl hybrid (depending on output), and the DI 3.0l V6. Competitors include X5, Touareg, MDX, Highlander, ML.

    That lineup, with a proper marketing campaign should bring some solid life back to Mercury.
     
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  22. Hurry up guys at Ford. Your priority is to save the Ford brand. Forget mercury. It's to late. Chinese ans indians are coming soon !
     
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  23. There is definitely a good case to continue to grow the Mercury brand. My wife drives a 2007 Mercury Milan and we both absolutely love it. We bought the Milan last year and we couldn't be happier. Mercury is definitely geared more towards women and while I think the strategy is working fine, I do think that Mercury could use a unique crossover and continue its trends towards making itself a "green" brand. What makes me happiest with my wife's car is that even though Mercury is geared specifically towards getting women buyers, the Milan is still a car that I really like to drive as well. Keeping Mercury as the bridge between the affordable Ford brand and the luxury Lincoln brand and steering its marketing towards attracting women into the dealerships is a sound business strategy. I have a 2003 Ford Taurus that I am thinking of trading in on a new Mercury Sable actually. I've test driven the new Sables a few times and I think it would make an excellent choice for my constant business travel.
     
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  24. I am sick, sick, sick of 'experts' saying "Ford should bring over Euro cars and badge them Mercury". Then what should Ford dealers sell? 10-20 year old designs?

    Ford is consolidating to compete in the real world, not 1968. There is NO MORE "medium price brand segment" anymore. To buyers under 40, Mercury is their Grandpapa's car. Let it fade to black, and let Ford brand compete with Toyota/Honda/Nissan. Merkur was a huge, huge failure, how can old line L-M dealers suddenly 'get hip'?

    GM's use of Opels for Saturn is a flop, too, so don't bother bring that up again. The Chevy Malibu is more important than the Aura,
     
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  25. Well, Ford has really brough all of this on themselves. GM use to be the worst about "badge engineering", you know, the same car with different grills and tail lights. This was the worst idea ever born by an automaker. GM has actually done a great job over the last decade or so in maked the same cars different for each brand. Look at the Impala/LaCrosse/Grand Prix line. Yeah they share the same platform components, but they are all different to look at and sit in. I think this is where Ford really screwed things up. I mean come on the Fusion/Milan/MKZ are all GREAT cars, and Ford should be proud, but can't we make them look different?

    I am a fan of "old" Mercury. They have a great history, and had great products, but they are just a Ford now, moreso than ever. If you really look at it, and price out a fully loaded V6 Fusion SEL and then go over and price out a fully loaded Milan, you'll see that the Fusion is a little bit less money, and I personally like the look of the Fusion better. As sad as I am to say it, I belive that it's time to take Mercury off of life support. Ford will not bring over their Euro Focus for the Ford brand, why would they do it for Mercury? Rebadging Mazda's for Merc, it's a thought, but do more than slap a Merc waterfall grill on there, change things up a bit, differnt sheet metal would be nice.

    If you can't do it right, don't do it at all Ford.....The cat looks like it needs to be put to sleep.
     
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  26. Ford sold more Edges last year than Arcadia, Outlook and Enclave combined. Its better to market one name and one product.

    People want to cut through the confusion today and killing Mercury would only help.
     
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  27. Ford spent 250 million 1960s dollars to make the Mercury more like Lincoln for 1969 and has spent the last forty years undoing the connection. This was the same amount spent on the Edsel in the 50s.

    Sorry, a Mercury should mean more HP, better trim, flashier style and a quieter ride than a garden variety Ford. What was never grasped was that it takes more than wall to wall tail light reflectors and a waterfall grille to create an "upscale" Ford.

    Even the original Comet got more of everything than the Falcon, and people were willing to pay extra for it. The concept of getting something "better" than at the Ford dealership actually meant something. Current concept of Mercury as a cosmetically engineered [ different grille and taillight trim] hasn't ever worked for them and it never will. The Maurauder of recent memory didn't even get anything different from Ford in the taillight dept. Great concept: we'll paint a Crown Vic all black add some 20" chrome wheels[or whatever] and call it a Marauder, that'll get Mercury back on people's shopping lists. Idiots.

    Now with Ford taking Lincoln down market and actually claiming that Lincoln is not going to "chase Cadillac upscale", why would they need Mercury to continue? Ford has never been serious about creating a separate image for Mercury in the past 40 years.4 times they gave it a shot: 1949, 1957, 1965 and 1969. Then did everything they could to run the other way.

    Forty years on I doubt there's a chance they'll try again with rebadges of Mazdas and Euro/Australian Fords......
     
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  28. @Dave Gregory:

    Actually the Marauder didn't really need distinctive taillights. 1) it had more distinctive headlights (smoked lenses/housings); 2) it had dual chrome exhaust pipes; and most importantly, 3) it had a detuned version of the 4.6L out of the Mustang GT and Lincoln Aviator that was pumping out 302 hp.
     
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  29. Whatever happened to Elaine Ford's Mercury revitalization plan from 4 years ago? Oh yeah, the plan took more than 6 months to develop, she's been promoted 4 times since and the company has hit rock bottom.

    Mullaly's plan seems sound. First, fix Ford Division (volume). Second, fix Lincoln (high contribution margin). Third, if there is a company or any money left, fix Mercury.

    If fixing Mercury ever happens, please stop selling rebumpered Fords as Mercurys. Consumers aren't stupid. The "tophat" needs to be different. Nobody cares that the platforms are the same.
     
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  30. Killing Oldsmobile was one of the stupidest moves GM has ever made!! GM wanted Olds gone for a LONG time. Screw the Saturn, the Saturn was not needed.
     
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  31. FoMoCo has a nice pair with Ford (mainstream) and Lincoln (luxury). There really is no need for Mercury wedged in between to dilute these models. In fact, Ford has a well rounded lineup with Mazda, which scratches the consumer's Japanese itch, and Volvo, which scratches the consumer's European itch. If Mercury were removed I don't think anyone would even notice (except Lincoln dealerships who don't want to go it alone).

    A mainstream and luxury pair works well. Consider the vehicles offered by Volkswagen AG. The VW Jetta is for the mainstream, while Audi A4 is the luxury model. Imagine if they had to shove another brand in between. It would dilute the appeal of these two models. This alignment works also for the Japanese Big 3: Honda/Acura, Toyota/Lexus, Nissan/Infiniti.

    Goodbye, Mercury... AMC, Eagle, Oldsmobile, and Plymouth are waiting for you.
     
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  32. Come on people! Rebadging works fine when done right! The entry-level Lexus, Infinity, and Acura models are classy rebadges of their Camry, Altima, and Honda cousins! It can work for Ford too if done properly. So what's wrong with MERCURY's pipeline consisting of a couple of strategically chosen rebadged FORDs and a couple of stratgeically chosen rebadged EURO or AUSIs??? MERCURY should live for 2 reasons: 1)Legacy/historical value 2)Add volume for Lincoln dealers
     
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