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

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

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.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

More by Steven Lang

Join the conversation
2 of 133 comments
  • 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.

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.