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Bye-Bye Mercury

It’s off to the rust heap for Ford’s former mid-range brand.

by on Jan.03, 2011

Mercury officially ceases to exist.

While most of us were waving goodbye to 2010, over the weekend, Ford Motor Co. was raising a toast and saying farewell to the Mercury division.

The long-struggling brand has been slowing phasing itself out following the decision to take Mercury off life support, last year.  But as of January 1, Ford formally closed the books on the brand.  When dealers opened up this morning they had to have removed all signs, logos and sales pitches for the once formidable Mercury.

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Borrowing the name from Roman mythology – Mercury being the messenger of the gods – the brand was founded in 1939 by Edsel Ford, son of company founder Henry Ford.  The division was designed to fill a spot between mainstream Ford, often called the “Blue Oval” brand, and upscale Lincoln.

In its very first year, Mercury sold 65,800 vehicles, in line with what it has been moving in recent years.  But even in those early days, Mercury struggled to establish a clear identity.  At times, it was pitched as a performance brand.  Alternatively, it was marketed as a more luxurious marque.  But most of the time, Mercury simply marketed the same products as the Ford division, albeit with a different badge.

The decision to kill the brand off has been a long time in coming.  Former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser came close to pulling the plug more than a decade ago but ran into resistance on the company board, notably from representatives of the Ford family, which maintains a controlling interest in Ford Motor Co.

Nasser responded by trying to market distinctly different products under the Mercury brand, including a downsized Cougar.  But buyers barely noticed and, over the last decade, sales continued to dwindle.

The fat of the brand ultimately fell into the hands of Alan Mulally, the former Boeing executive who was recruited by Ford to become CEO four years ago.  Since moving to the maker’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, Mulally has focused on a One Ford strategy that emphasizes the Blue Oval brand and Lincoln.  That has led Ford to sell off its various European luxury brands, like Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin, and kill Mercury.

The domestic brand’s last product, a Mercury Mariner sport-utility vehicle, rolled down the assembly line last October.

Ford has spent millions of dollars paying off former Mercury dealers.  Some have shifted their operations to focus on the surviving Ford and Lincoln brands, but others have closed up shop.

While December sales won’t be released until later this week, Mercury sold just 84,802 vehicles through November 2010, down from nearly 200,000 just five years before.  That suggests few U.S. motorists will likely even notice its departure.

Mercury winds up on the rust heap with more than 900 other brands that have been sold in the U.S. since the late 1800s, including such venerable names as Cord, Duesenberg, Packard and Pierce Arrow.  More recently, Chrysler dumped its slow-selling Plymouth and Eagle divisions, while General Motors was forced to shutter or sell off four of its own nameplates – Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer – as part of its 2009 bankruptcy.  GM had dumped the once-powerful Oldsmobile brand a few years earlier.

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