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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.


Who’ll Follow Mercury Onto the Automotive Rust Heap?

There are plenty of other troubled brands.

by on Jun.03, 2010

If the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander doesn't turn things around for the troubled brand its fate, at least in the U.S., will be decidedly uncertain.

Remember Packard?  Or Plymouth?  How about Eagle or Oldsmobile?

A search of the automotive morgue yields the name of more than 800 different brand names that have vanished from the U.S. market alone over the last century.  Some, like Packard and Olds, were immensely popular in their day, the latter General Motors division generating sales of more than a million as recently as the early-1980s.  Others, like Chrysler’s Eagle, were ill-conceived ventures that were given mercifully little time before being pulled from the market.

As Ford’s announcement that it will finally pull 71-year-old Mercury off life support underscores, the ongoing automotive sales crisis has led to the demise of more automotive brands than at any time since the Great Depression.  The question, analysts ask, is whether still more nameplates could vanish in the coming years?

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Is there room for a Suzuki, Mitsubishi or Saab, as well as Ram and Fiat?

(Click Here for more on Mercury’s demise. More on vanishing brands on the next page.)


Dead Brand Walking: Ford Kills Mercury

Lincoln receives new products instead, including a Focus clone.

by on Jun.02, 2010

Does the new strategy send Lincoln down the same dead end road?

Does the new direction send Lincoln down the same dead end road?

Ford Motor Company made the demise of Mercury official today by confirming that the production of Mercury vehicles will end in the fourth quarter of this year. (See Rest in Peace, Mercury)

Of Ford Motor Company’s 16% market share in the U.S., Mercury accounts for 0.8 percentage points or roughly 100,000 units, a level that has been flat or declining for the past several years.

With the impending cancellation of the Mercury Mountaineer sport utility this year and Grand Marquis sedan next year, the Mercury lineup would have been down to just four derivative products –the Mariner compact SUV and the Milan midsize sedan, along with hybrid versions of both. This is not enough to sustain dealers.

The decision to withhold from Mercury a version of the Ford Focus in 2000 started a product diet – critics say starvation plan – that resulted in Mercury’s paltry lineup today. As a result, Mercury’s customers, pricing and margins are almost identical to those of the Ford brand, but Mercury’s incremental sales have been declining, which led to the death sentence.

Now, Lincoln will get a version of the Focus – named the Irony or maybe Versailles? – in an attempt to increase transaction prices to higher levels than they would be if the compact car were a Mercury, given its  tarnished image. While this might work in the short term, critics argue that it ultimately sends Lincoln down the same dead end road that Mercury is now parked on.

Ford claims that existing Mercury owners will receive continued access to parts and service support at Ford and Lincoln dealers. Current Mercury vehicle warranties and Extended Service Plans will also be honored. There will of course be special offers available on new Mercury vehicles through the summer as Ford dumps the inventory.

“Profitably growing Lincoln in North America is an important part of our One Ford plan,” said Alan Mulally, Ford president and CEO. “Our Ford brand is gaining momentum and winning customers around the world.

The majority of current Mercury sales are to fleet buyers and customers purchasing through employee, retiree and friends and family discounts. Ford is gambling they can largely can be satisfied by Ford brand vehicles.

Rest in Peace, Mercury

It’s all over but the funeral after years of criminal neglect.

by on May.28, 2010

World class fuel economy is available from the Milan hybrid, at least for the moment.

The herd mentality of the media is in full view during this week’s feeding frenzy and rampant speculation over the impending demise of the Mercury brand. Such a move, if it is presented to and approved by Ford Motor Company’s board of directors at its next meeting, will cost a lot of money to shut dealers and see Ford lose the sales of roughly 100,000 annually provided by the Mercury brand.

This, of course, is not the first occasion when Mercury had to fight for its survival.

In recent times, the decision not to provide Mercury with a version of the Ford Focus in 2000 started a product diet – critics say starvation plan – that has resulted in Mercury’s paltry product lineup today. With the impending cancellation of the Mountaineer sport utility this year and Grand Marquis sedan next year, the Mercury lineup would be down to just four derivative products –the Mariner compact SUV and the Milan midsize sedan, along with hybrid versions of both.

It’s a tribute to Mercury dealers that without any support from the parent company that they are able to sell as many cars as they currently do. As an example of the criminal neglect that Ford executives imposed on Mercury, consider that the Grand Marquis website hasn’t been updated since the 2008 model appeared.

Alan Mulally, Ford’s CEO, clearly signaled the end this morning while speaking to analysts when he said that he had nothing new to add on speculation that Ford is planning to shut down its Mercury brand after 71 years. Mulally said that Ford continues to look closely at its portfolio of brands and consider strategic options that would be good for business. So my take on this is it’s all over but the funeral.

Look for an upcoming detailed history and analysis of the tribulations and trials of Mercury since its extremely successful introduction as a 1939 model – 80,000 sales the first year in what was a much smaller, depression market then – from our resident expert, Mike Davis, aka Mercuryphile Mike.

Ford Motor Sales Drop 31% in April

Sport utility sales plummet 65%. Volvo off 46%.

by on May.01, 2009

“We continue to operate in a very challenging economic and competitive environment,” said Ken

“We continue to operate in a very challenging economic and competitive environment,” said Ken Czubay.

Ford, Lincoln and Mercury sales totaled 129,898, down 31% compared with April 2008.  Retail sales were down 32% compared with a year ago ,and fleet sales were down 30%. Mustang dropped 50% and F-series dropped 43%.

Year-to-dates sales plunged 40%, or 300,000 vehicles, the equivalent of the output of six final assembly plants on an annualized basis for the loss making automaker.

Ford claimed it is gaining “retail” market share, thanks in part to the success of the company’s revamped line of hybrid vehicles, which has been heavily promoted. Actual share numbers based on total market were not provided,  but Ford’s overall share has been dropping for a decade or more. At the  end of  the first quarter, Ford’s overall share of the U.S. market, measured traditionally, was down to 13.9%, a loss of 1.1%.

George Pipas, Ford sales analyst, said consumers really do pay attention “when you start talking about 41 miles per gallon. Thus, hybrid sales, which have been backed by an aggressive advertising campaign for the past couple of months, jumped 21% or 2,299 units, last month in a market that was down by about 34% by the best estimates.

Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, Sales and Marketing, said hybrid models are the most fuel-efficient vehicles in their class. The Ford Escape and Ford Fusion recently were all named to Kelley Blue Book’s list of Top 10 Green Cars.

“New, fuel-efficient products and quality on par with the best in the industry helped Ford increase retail market share in April – the sixth time in the last seven months that Ford’s share of the retail market was higher than a year ago,” said Pipas. (more…)

Brand X-ed?

Some brands just need to go away, says AutoNation CEO

by on Jan.28, 2009

Jackson tosses Mercury onto the trash heap

Jackson tosses Mercury onto the trash heap

The top executive at America’s largest auto retailer is not known for his shy demeanor, reluctance to express his mind or not having an opinion – quite the contrary, as Jackson once again demonstrated during an appearance in Detroit, where he made it clear which automotive brands should be tossed on the industry’s trash heap.

While not Vice President Biden-like, Mike Jackson is not afraid to speak his mind on CNBC, at stockholder meetings or at the 2009 Automotive News World Congress, in Detroit. If he were not as successful in a varied automotive career his articulate, often funny, remarks and views might not be acknowledged, accepted, much less admired as they are.

Following his what ails the auto industry speech and the subsequent Q&A follow-up, Keith Crain, publisher of Automotive News, asked Jackson for his opinion on what he’d do, “Buy, sell or hold,” as he read a list of auto franchises. Here are his remarks as I recorded and transcribed them.