Mercury: The Mystique is Gone
I recently attended the Los Angeles Auto Show. Other than 30-inch custom wheels, the sheer desolation at the Mercury stand was the most amazing sight of the day. A forty- something couple ambled about the premises studiously avoiding the half-dozen or so Mercury “product specialists” looking for something to do before lunch. The revamped Mariner and Mariner Hybrid spun on their turntables, revealing their inescapable Fordness to an ocean of deserted carpeting. I couldn't help but conclude that the brand is doomed.
I remember the Oldsmobile stand in the years leading up to its ignominious demise. Even in its lame duck form it had a couple dozen visitors milling around. And unlike Mercury, there was very little chatter within the industry suggesting that Oldsmobile’s extinction was imminent. Olds was an Indy 500 and IRL championship-winning engine supplier. According to those “in the know,” GM was about to reinvent the brand to capitalize on its racing rep. Oldsmobile was going to become the premium American import alternative– the orbit [once and again] occupied by Saturn.
In contrast, today’s Mercury has no motorsports involvement and sells a range of fractionally ritzier but still blander-than-John-Kerry- eating-vanilla-ice-cream Fords with waterfall grilles. Even employing a drop-dead gorgeous spokesperson like Jill Wagner, the fact remains that Mercury’s product line remains an armada of badge engineered mediocrity.
So how should Ford CEO Alan Mulally and his posse fix this situation— other than pulling the plug and let the dealer lawsuits fall where they may? Step one: axe the Milan. As the Brits say, the Milan falls between two stools. Any customers willing to pay a premium to drive a frillier Ford Fusion will make the jump to the automotive artist formerly known as Zephyr. Although you couldn’t ask for a better platform from which to badge engineer (just ask Mazda), that way oblivion lies.
Mercury should also kill the Mariner (Escape), Montego (Five Hundred) and Monterey (don’t ask). To quote the Brits again, the first thing you do when you’re in a hole is to stop digging. Badge engineering is killing– has killed Mercury. To reinvent itself, Mercury must take one giant step away from Ford and decide what it wants to represent.
Step two, Mercury should replace the Milan with a federalized, waterfall grilled version of the head-turning Euro-spec Ford Mondeo. Yes, this same scheme did a face-plant in the form of the late, unlamented Mystique. But a Mercury version of the new “kinetic” Mondeo would go a long way towards restoring some semblance of street cred for the amorphous brand– especially if Dearborn includes the five-door and wagon versions. (Multiple bonus points for a high-po “Cyclone” version.)
Step three: import the Euro-spec Focus. The Euro Focus is a full generation ahead of the current vine-rotted model barely sold in the U.S. The domestic version should be rechristened a nuevo Mercury Comet. By adding this “premium compact” to their NorAm portfolio, Mercury could present a viable domestic alternative to the BMW MINIs and Audi A3s mopping-up the high-end of the small car market.
Step four: bring over the Ford S-Max. Other than the fact that the S-Max is an award-winning minivan (a genre Ford recently abandoned), this “MPV’s” chief advantage is that it looks like nothing else in Ford’s domestic lineup. When you’re trying to re-build a brand without a visual identity, you have a unique opportunity to deploy completely new models without worrying about the effects of new design language. Moribund Mercury needs a completely unique vehicle. The S-Max is it.
If all of this sounds a bit familiar to armchair Iacoccas, that’s because GM’s is now using its “import fighter” Saturn brand to sell, uh, imports. Although Saturn’s weak-selling Aura suggests that re-badging Euro-derived vehicles doesn’t guarantee success, Mercury could pull it off, under one condition: no other Ford brand is allowed to share the European swag. Repeat after me: badge engineering blows. Besides, importing cars ain’t cheap. The allegedly upmarket Mercury brand can charge the premium required to maintain profitability. [How Saturn expect to make a profit on a European-built Astra is something of a mystery.]
Alan Mulally has decided that Ford’s future depends on international parts and platform sharing. If The Blue Oval’s Thirty Million Dollar Man can get his guys to use these platforms to create highly individual models suitable to each brand’s specific DNA, the global strategy could work. Meanwhile, Big Al needs a way to reenergize Mercury right now, cheap. This is it. If the Divine Mr. M maintains the status quo– letting Mercury stand for nothing more than a babe and a badge– by the time the new models arrive, there’ll be no one left who's interested in them.
Join the conversation
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you. Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers.
- ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
- Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down. https://academic.oup.com/dh/article-abstract/42/4/548/5063004
- Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
- Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro processors...in today's vehicles?
Mercury will never die as long as Lincoln exists. Likewise, they won't get much unique product either-it will all be slightly blinged up Fords. See, as long as Mercury exists as being merely slightly fancier Fords, the engineering costs are nil-and without Mercury's volume, Lincoln dealers would be in deep trouble. That is, they can't afford to give it unique product, and they can't afford to kill it. So, status quo ahoy!
[...] The Truth About Cars, writer Tom Anderson speculates why Ford Motor Co. continues to insist in keeping what he considers [...]