Ford Death Watch 40: Mercury R.I.P.

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
ford death watch 40 mercury r i p

Four vehicles. That’s all you’ll find on Mercury's web site. If you’re as “lucky” as I am, Mercury will respond to your browsing by asking if you want to spend five minutes on a questionnaire. Say what? Asking for five minutes of your customer's time before you even show them your products? That isn’t the smartest thing to do to a spam-weary public. Then again, once you click on the word "No" and return to the actual products, you begin to realize that the entire Mercury product line represents the brand’s not-so-smart existence.

In fact, calling Mercury a “brand” is like calling a sampling of the touch-tone hold music version of Greensleeves a classical music concert. The erstwhile automaker represents nothing to nobody in a fantastically non-descript way. Every vehicle Ford sells as a Mercury is either a drab clone or a dying breed.

Milans are mildly redesigned Fusions that sit on dealer lots for nearly four months. Mariners are half-blinged Escapes sporting fake wood, fake leather and a very large and cheap fake plastic grille. Mountaineers are Explorers who’ve lost contact with base camp (which has given-up and moved further down the slope). The Mercury Sable is so boring and pointless that most full-sized car shoppers don't even know it exists. And the last of the great Panther-platformed sedans, the Grand Marquis (which outsells the Sable), appeals to customers who make Buick buyers feel like spring chickens.

In short, aside from Jill Wagoner’s comely curves, there is nothing compelling about anything Mercury says or does. Of course, Mercury’s non-existence is nothing new. The division hasn't had a competitive product or a compelling raison d’etre for at least 15 years. By the 80’s, Mercury’s model line up was as it is today: a dumping ground for slightly tarted-up Fords.

To wit, when Ford finally took the imports head on with the Taurus (and won), Mercury simply sent in the clones. As time and corporate idiocy went on, the 'non-Ford' Scorpios, XR4Tis, and Cougars flopped with increasingly predictable regularity. (Not to mention the Capri – an Aussie-built shitbox convertible.) Thanks to the “Ford first” culture, scant marketing dollars and limited engineering sources translated into a unique line of one generation wonders that were never improved the next go round. Nothing of any unique value endured in the Mercury division.

For Ford’s not-so-new-anymore CEO, Mercury’s mediocrity is déjà vu all over again. Alan Mulally was keenly aware of the importance of the “branding issue” when he took the reins at Boeing. Mulally knew the aviation Goliath had too many fiefdoms, which translated into too many products, which competed with each other, for no good reason. Big Al worked tirelessly to eliminate pointless redundancy of processes and products. And corrected Boeing’s nosedive.

Mr. Mulally is obviously far less beholden to Ford’s old guard than the gentleman that came before him. He’s been there, done that, killed the extraneous bits. And here’s the truth: when Mulally finally gets around to taking a good hard look at Mercury, Mercury will be toast.

For now, Mercury is merely milquetoast. The company adds zero uniqueness to Ford's product line. Mercury has zero technology, zero differentiation, zero prestige, zero class-leading products and zero long-term priority for the Ford Motor Company. Hundreds of Mercury dealerships, thousands of Ford employees and millions of advertising dollars are wasted trying to counter a counter clockwise death spiral. Every penny that goes into turning a struggling Ford product into an even less competitive Mercury is a penny wasted.

At a time when Ford is struggling to generate a profit anywhere within its North American product portfolio, what value can be had with Mercury? None.

There is but one, obvious solution: kill the brand. While politicians and lobbyists (one and the same) within the Ford fiefdoms will fight for Mercury’s survival– offering Saturn-like visions of imported import fighters– it’s only a matter of time before the death man’s blade swings its inevitable arc.

Ford is clearly– and rightly– bent on re-focusing its energies on becoming a smaller, faster, better carmaker. Once the corporate cancers known as Jaguar and Land Rover are removed from the body corporate, Mercury is next. I predict that within the next six months Ford will announce the closing of the Mercury division. The consolidation of Lincoln and Mercury dealers is such that the move will not be “another Oldsmobile,” requiring billions in dealer pay-offs.

Most likely Mulally’s minions will announce Mercury’s termination in conjunction with a 'realignment' of the Lincoln division (towards it original luxury roots). Lincoln will once again start building unique vehicles. It will become the anti-Mercury, if you will.

If Ford files for bankruptcy before the man at the top can get Dearborn’s ducks in a row, the end result will be the same for Mercury. It is, and has been, a dead brand walking. It’s time to say goodbye.

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  • Lichtronamo Lichtronamo on Jan 18, 2008

    Somebody referenced it in an article I read this week (where I read it I can't remember) that the Verve concept represents the intended blending of the NA and European design languages.

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Jan 20, 2008

    SAAB95JD: Use Mercury as an outlet for SMALL volume sales of the European market vehicles...I bet that by doing that, the Mercury vehicles would out-sell Volvo in the US, and would spread the development costs even further. The cars are already there, just invest a few bucks in badges… Who knows, maybe the importation costs will be less than the multi-state lawsuit costs of closing the Mercury brand. Maybe I should have mentioned that in my pro-Mercury editorial.

  • Cprescott I tend to use SiriusXm most of the time now but do use AM for traffic status reports in the tunnels and bridges that are around here - I don't have to take my eyes off of the road. Nice big navigation buttons on my radio head to move from XM to AM and back.
  • Jpolicke Manufacturers put such little effort into making AM reception sound like anything tolerable to listen to, they may as well drop the pretense and eliminate it altogether. Maybe it's not coincidental that my last car that had decent reception also had a traditional metal stick for its antenna.
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  • Irvingklaws Still listen to AM from time to time. Mostly just to find what's out there, often just after something has cleared all my presets. Lots of christian and rightwing politic talk shows, but there's still music, local news, traffic, and weather. I've found lots of non-English (as a primary language) stations as well. Kind of like local access cable. You can find more local content that can't get air time on the big stations. It can be fun to explore on trips just seek/scanning up and down the dial.
  • Oberkanone AM is choice for traffic reports, local news, and sports. FM is choice for music. I don't own a cell phone. How often is AM radio accessed? Over 90% of drives I use AM at some point.