Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Another One

Ford Motor Co. board voted today to end Mercury vehicle production in the fourth quarter. Thus the up and down life of Ford's middle child comes to an end.

The fate of the 72-year-old Mercury brand, born as an upscale Ford in 1939, has recently been in question. Thus this announcement comes as little surprise. Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at more than 580,000 vehicles but have been declining ever since. Ford sold about 92,000 Mercurys last year. That was a good year for a Grand Marquis in the 80s, not counting the other models in the line up.

In the 40s and 50s Mercury was more of a baby Lincoln rather than a Ford. The unique bathtub Mercs of the 50s (think any low slung hot rod you have seen) were more related in style to the Lincoln Cosmopolitans than the Ford Tudor. Same with the late 50s when the Turnpike Cruiser was the most Buck Rodgers thing on the road. In the 60s, Mercury suffered along with many of the mid class rivals and became more upmarket Ford than baby Lincoln. Its best years were the 70s, when the Monterrey model was closer to Ford and the Marquis was a step below a Continental.

The most well known Merc was the Cougar, itself a spin off from Ford's Mustang. Cougars were suave, sexy and luxurious and above all successful. Cougar's cat emblem virtually identified all Mercury autos for a generation, where one could buy one "a the sign of the cat."

Even then one could see the problem that eventually spelled doom for Mercury. None of its cars were unique, none screamed Mercury. Even when there was a unique Merc (that is one not sold by Ford dealers) it was a derivative of some other Ford product. Those include the German "Merker" of the late 80s and the awful Australian Capri. Mercury got a mini van care of Nissan whose "Quest" was re-badged and slightly restyled as the Villager. Thus the badge fought annually for relevance, only the long in the tooth Grand Marquis keeping it afloat.

In the last few years, Mercury became even more irrelevant. All products were nothing but re-badged and disguised Fords, from the Milan (Fusion) sedan to the SUV Mountaineer (Explorer). Those between 75 and death will have to get a-hold of their last available Grand Marquis soon.

I owned one Merc, an exasperating 1986 Grand Marquis with few miles but a nagging engine problem that led it to an early grave. Rode like a dream and was solid otherwise. My friend Steve had an 84 that we took to Cleveland and back in the late 90s. Great car.

So another great name joins the ranks of cars consigned to the dustbin. Times have changed, the old multi-layer marketing plans that relied on a customer being loyal to a brand and moving upscale as they got older and more wealthy just doesn't work anymore. Life has been tough on the middle kids; Olds, Pontiac and now Mercury. Who's next?

Some say Chrysler may drop the Chrysler brand and go to Dodge and the new Fiat made cars.

Tough time to be a car fan.

Mercury 1939-2010

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