Dudder: Death Row Musings

Mercury's execution doesn't have to be inevitable.

Judging from the dearth of product in the pipeline, it looks like Ford will starve Mercury much like Chrysler starved Plymouth.

Judging from the dearth of product in the pipeline, it looks like Ford will starve Mercury much like Chrysler starved Plymouth. From a corporate perspective, it's a smart move, and one that greatly reduces the money it must spend to placate dealers who will ultimately see their investment in the franchise shrivel and die. But is it the right answer? In a world populated by Kirk Kerkorian and his attack dog, the irritating Jerry York, undoubtedly. Even Alan Mulally, a man for whom a trimmed-out Fusion (the MKZ) is acceptably "Lincoln," probably thinks this scenario makes sense. However, for the long-term health of the Ford Motor Company, I'm not sure this is the best answer as it does not take a long-term view of Ford's divisional structure and lineup or establish a coherent global product mix. Mercury can be more than a way to balance production at Ford's assembly facilities, which seems to be its primary reason for being.

In the coming years, globalization of the product portfolio will cause Ford to pull more of its vehicles from its European operations, and adopt their size and "kinetic" design themes as its own. But what plays in Europe won't necessarily play to mainstream America, a market the Ford divisional brand can't afford to alienate. However, Mercury could become the perfect landing pad for the more esoteric members of the lineup, and bridge the gap between Ford and Lincoln with vehicles that are a bit more Euro funky to American eyes. It also would not detract from what Lincoln hopes to become over time: a maker of sophisticated, glamorous, confident vehicles. In addition, Mercury's positioning as a seller of mid-price, midscale vehicles could be very effective once Volvo is sold.

Rather than speculate blindly, let's see how this might work given Ford's current lineup of global vehicles:

Fiesta platform:Mondeo platform:Focus platform:Taurus platform:Rear-drive platform:
Sedan (Hatchback)Sedan (5-door)3-door(5-door)SedanMustang (Messenger concept)
Wagon (MPV)Wagon (MPV)Flex [MKT]Interceptor concept
SUV (Coupe)Sedan (Convertible Coupe)[MKR concept]
SUV[Continental concept]
( ) denotes Mercury product[ ] denotes Lincoln product

Utilizing common platforms that are optimized for their region and using flexible assembly methods, Ford can take existing European vehicles and place most of them with Mercury almost unchanged. Thus, Ford would get the Focus wagon, Mercury would get its sibling, the C-Max MPV. Ford would create a Focus sedan for North America and China while Mercury dealers sold Europe's CC convertible coupe. The Mondeo sedan would become the Fusion, while the hatchback version was sold as the Milan. Ford would get the Mondeo wagon, and Mercury the S-Max MPV. The Explorer also would be built off the Mondeo platform, while Mercury builds a unique Coupe model it shares with Europe. The Sable would die so Ford could focus its efforts on the Taurus and Flex, while Lincoln keeps the Flex-based MKT. A new rear-drive platform would spawn an image car like the Mercury Messenger concept, give Lincoln the platform it needs for both the midsize MKR and an iconic Continental sedan and convertible, and Ford would build the Interceptor (and Australian Falcon) off the same platform. Also, Mercury's meaningless waterfall emblem would be replaced by a modernized version of the "god's head" badge from its past to complete the transformation.

A model lineup like this would take a long-term view of Ford's divisional structure and lineup with an eye toward establishing a coherent global product mix built at flexible assembly plants around the world. All of these additions and changes would open the door for Mercury to handle both the up-sell and down-sell from Lincoln without blatantly re-badging-and stepping on-similar models from Ford. Traditionally, Ford hasn't had the patience, or managerial stability, to make this happen, and its current financial situation suggests that such a plan would be jettisoned in favor of something with a greater short-term upside. With predators like Kerkorian chumming the waters, Mercury's fate is almost surely sealed.