Mercury Rising?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

I recently found myself in London working on a large project for an even larger corporation. I took particular interest in the Ford models plying British roads. In contrast to America’s Blue Oval offerings, these Euro-Fords looked clean, modern and, above all, right-sized. And then, bombing around London in a Ford Mondeo estate (station wagon), the chariot’s gentle diesel clatter brought sudden clarity. If Ford hopes to preserve America’s mildewed Mercury brand, Euro-Fords are the way to go.

Well, maybe not THAT Ford. My last gen Mondeo hire car made an avocado-hued dinette look modern. That said, the little estate’s lack of style was no match for its undeniable substance. Respect to interior materials that wouldn’t seem out of place in a “proper” VW and the Duratorq’s prodigious oil-burning grunt. And despite CUV-levels of space, the Mondeo’s suspension means you’ll never utter the phrase “car-like handling” again.

But wait, there’s more! Gazing over London’s M4 gridlock brought mass awareness of the Blue Oval kind. The Ford Galaxy MPV, the spawn of a Honda Odyssey and a personal trainer, is everywhere. You can’t sneeze without hitting a Ford Transit, the workhorse of an entire nation. And then there’s the big shock: the Euro-spec Focus is even better than Google tells you.

To reiterate: the Focus is not just easy on the eyes; it brings tears to them. And that’s just the base model. The Focus ST makes any red-blooded Yank lust for this Englishman in New York. And everyone from urban youth to the middle-aged stealth wealth-set are spotted (or not) in a Focus.

And yet, America gets no love. This despite [what I sense to be] pent-up demand for something (anything?) from The Blue Oval Boyz with unique style, innovative engineering, fuel-efficient dimensions and sporting dynamics. So bring this Euro-stuff over, rebadge it Mercury, get Jill Wagner to wear something suitably slinky and growl at the new car and call it good. No, call it great.

In theory, Saturnalian Euro-transplantation is a slam dunk for a Ford brand without any discernible identity– or future. In practice, there are plenty of excellent reasons why it hasn’t happened.

For one thing, the weak US dollar makes a mockery of any Ford exec stupid (brave?) enough to suggest UK to US Ford exports. A UK buyer can pick-up a new Ford Mondeo “Edge” with a 2.0-liter engine for around ₤16k. At today’s exchange rate, that’s $32,253.18. Add on another $5k or so for federalization and transportation, and you’re looking at a US sticker price that’s nearasdammit $40k.

A US buyer can pick-up a loaded BMW 325i for the same wedge. By the same token, you’d have a very hard time indeed spending that much money on a Lincoln MKZ. I mean, the Mondeo may be a better car than a tarted-up Ford Fusion, but inserting it into Mercury’s lineup at that price point would play merry Hell with what remains of Ford’s brand delineations.

Anyway, the United Auto Workers (UAW) would never let it happen. A financial agreement this side of Bretton Woods would be required to keep the UAW’s finger off the supply chain’s big red button. Fresh from their GM strike, methinks union leaders aren't about to turn to Ford CEO Alan Mulally and say “Bring in some European Fords for Mercury? Sure! Whatever it takes Al, whatever it takes.”

Even if Ford could surmount these hurdles, history tells us that any such technology transfer is doomed to failure. Witness the hot/cold reaction to the Cougar hatchback-transplant and its Mercury Mistake Mystique cousin. Or the sunk-without-a-trace new-wave Merkurs. While pistonheads like your author may love clean-looking, tight-handling European Fords, there’s no guarantee anyone else will.

So, basically, the law of supply and demand says it ain’t gonna happen. But the spirit of the law says that Ford can, should and will capitalize on its excellence abroad to revive its moribund market at home. And despite all the critics who’ve written-off Mercury, it’s not impossible to surmise that the brand could benefit from Alan Mulally’s ongoing realization that product excellence doesn’t live here anymore.

Ford’s sale of Jaguar will free Lincoln to reach higher [than rebadging Fords]. This opens a big space between everyman Ford and upscale Lincoln. In fact, it’s Mercury’s old stomping ground: affordable style. What’s to stop Mercury from capitalizing on Ford’s Euro-style and Euro-excellence by building “world” cars in, dare I say it, Mexico with, dare I say it, grace and pace?

The hypothetical Euro-Mercury brand could have the best of everything: a highly-rated dealer network (that’s Lincoln-Mercury), products that go toe-to-toe with anything in their class and a brand name (formerly) known for selling upscale iron that most anyone can afford. Get it done and it won’t be long before Jill Wagner is the most forgettable part of Mercury.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • TaxedAndConfused TaxedAndConfused on Oct 15, 2007

    Remember, todays Euro-Fords are VWs circa 2001. Maybe mercury should just sell itself to VW as another Satelite maker ? Mercury "Superb" anyone ?

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Oct 17, 2007
    Remember, todays Euro-Fords are VWs circa 2001. Taxed: Really? Maybe you can draw a connection to the Focus and a VW (I don't see it) but the 2008 Mondeo? Design wise, there's nothing VW about that ride.
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