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Mercury Milan, Mercury Montego, Mercury Mariner Hybrid
#171 of 308 Ford investing in Mercury, but exec won't guarantee its future
Feb 11, 2008 (5:07 pm)
Monday, February 11, 2008
TOM KRISHER / AP Auto Writer
SAN FRANCISCO -- Ford Motor Co. executives won't guarantee that the Mercury brand will be around forever, but they told a group of dealers Sunday that new Mercury products are coming.
Ford's leaders have said they expect the Lincoln luxury brand to command higher sales volume than Mercury in the future. But some dealers are wary about the company's plan for Mercury because it has had few exclusive new products in recent years.
Mercury also didn't get a version of the popular Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover vehicles, which have been big sellers for the company.
"Mercury has a place in our brand portfolio," Mark Fields, Ford's president for the Americas, said after a meeting with Lincoln-Mercury dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in San Francisco.
But he wouldn't say that Mercury will live on indefinitely.
"Any good business on a continuous basis looks at their portfolio. Any good business does that, not just automotive, and that's part of our process," Fields said.
When asked what he would tell dealers who fear the brand could be discontinued, Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president for marketing, said they should look at the new products.
"I think you're seeing continual investment in Mercury and Lincoln for both to grow, and I think that speaks for itself," Farley said.
The company, he said, is updating the powertrain on the Mariner small sport utility vehicle, and it's updating and adding a hybrid version of the Milan mid-sized sedan.
Still, some dealers were left wondering about Mercury's future.
"They wouldn't give us any definite answers," said Steve Downing, owner of a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Yuba City, Calif. "Obviously the future's with Lincoln."
U.S. dealers sold 168,422 Mercury vehicles last year, down 6.9 percent from 2006. Lincoln sales of 131,487 were up 9.1 percent.
This summer, Lincoln dealers will get the new MKS large luxury sedan.
"I think their strategy is there is a lot more growth in the luxury side of things," said Kip Rowe, president of Colonial Auto Center, a dealership group in Charlottesville, Va., that includes Lincoln and Mercury.
#172 of 308 Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3)
Feb 11, 2008 (5:08 pm)
By Bill Koenig
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury, whose sales have dwindled to less than a third of their 1978 peak, has a ``changing'' role as the automaker concentrates more on its Ford and Lincoln brands, the company's marketing chief said.
``Its role is changing, but we're not going to compromise Mercury,'' Group Vice President Jim Farley said yesterday in a brief interview at the Chicago Auto Show. ``No doubt Lincoln and polishing up the Blue Oval,'' the symbol of the Ford brand, ``is absolutely our priority.'' He didn't elaborate about Mercury.
Ford executives have been questioned in the past month by reporters and analysts about the future of Mercury. It is the mid-level brand between the namesake division, which generates the majority of sales, and Lincoln's luxury vehicles. The automaker, seeking to revive U.S. sales to help end losses, plans to expand Lincoln as it sells European-based luxury units.
Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, in response to questions from reporters, insisted at a Jan. 8 dinner that Ford remains committed to Mercury. At the same time, he said, the company is studying ``what we want to do with all our brands.''
For Mercury, ``the idea I think is to take what they can get from it without expending a lot of money and management attention,'' said Alan Baum, director of automotive forecasting at consulting firm Planning Edge in Birmingham, Michigan.
Ford is trying to stabilize its U.S. market share for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands after a dozen years of decline. They held 14.8 percent last year, a drop of 1.6 percentage points from 2006, as the Dearborn, Michigan-based company's total sales fell 12 percent and it lost the No. 2 rank to Toyota Motor Corp.
Mercury sold 168,422 cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year, a 6.9 percent decline from 2006. The brand peaked at 579,498 in 1978. Mercury still outsells Lincoln, which increased its total 9.1 percent last year to 131,498.
The company plans for Lincoln to take over the bulk of sales at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships, where Mercury has accounted for the majority.
``The Lincoln part of the Lincoln-Mercury franchise will become the buying part of the franchise,'' Mark Fields, Ford's North America chief, told reporters at the Jan. 8 dinner.
When describing future plans, Ford executives haven't been discussing Mercury as much as the Ford and Lincoln brands.
On Jan. 16, Ford briefed financial analysts attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Derrick Kuzak, the company's product-development chief, said the company would ensure Ford and Lincoln models looked different from each other.
When the time came for analyst questions, one of the first was why Mercury wasn't part of the presentation. Farley, the marketing chief, replied, ``We continue to invest in Mercury. If you talk to customers, they're very loyal to the brand.''
Mercury attracts ``independent-minded'' customers and more women buyers than other Ford brands, he said in the interview.
Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics, a Birmingham, Michigan, automotive consulting firm, said the Lincoln-Mercury division still depends on Mercury sales, and Lincoln isn't ready yet to take up the slack.
``Take Mercury away now and you lose dealers,'' he said. At Lincoln, he said, ``the question is, will it get to Mercury levels?''
Ford is ``looking to put their resources into Lincoln,'' said Erich Merkle, auto analyst at consulting firm IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ``If you're going to get the most bang for the buck, it's Ford and most certainly Lincoln.''
Based on Ford Models
Mercury vehicles typically have been based on Ford-brand cars and trucks. The Mercury Mariner small SUV is a version of the Ford Escape, while the Milan sedan is a version of the Ford Fusion and the Sable is a version of the Ford Taurus car.
Ford during this decade hasn't consistently developed Mercury versions of new models. For example, there's no Mercury version of the either the Ford brand's Taurus X or Edge wagons. Mercury's main introduction for this year is a redesigned Milan.
Since 2002, Ford executives repeatedly have said they want to halt Mercury's sales slide. Fields said on Jan. 8 while the company is backing Mercury, ``we understand why people ask the question'' about the brand's future.
Ford fell 14 cents to $6.17 at 4:02 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have declined 28 percent in the past 12 months.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Koenig in Chicago at wkoenigbloomberg.net ;
#173 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [jkr2106]
Feb 11, 2008 (6:08 pm)
Lets start discussion. I never was a Mercury fan, I bought mainly Mercury because it projected better image and felt as being more premium than similar Ford. And it is extremely reliable I have to say. And now I understand that it will be difficult for me to switch back to Ford - if Ford drops Mercury most likely I will switch to Honda or Saturn. Ford is a blue-collar brand. At least that the image it developed over time. If you give well-educated person choice between slightly anonymous but refined Camry or Ford with bold shining three bar grille (and utilitarian interior) what do you think he or her would prefer? At least with Mercury they had a choice to buy affordable Ford car and do not look like they did not do well at school.
Toyota and Honda became Mercuries/Oldsmobiles of our time. They are not entry-level cars (and BTW Toyota has entry level brand – it is called Scion) - they are notch above Ford and Chevrolet but not at Buick or Lincoln level yet. May be that is the problem with Mercury and Oldsmobile – foreign brands like Toyota and Honda replaced them as mid-level brands in peoples mind.
And BTW Mazda or Volvo are not replacement for Mercury as some may suggest. Volvo is too up level and expensive and Mazda is too sporty and youth oriented.
Also consider Edge/MKX sales. It is disaster. Ford sales slightly more than GM Saturn/GMC/Buick CUV trio. And there is no Chevrolet yet in the picture. Basically with two Mercury-like brands GM sales as many CUVs as a mainstream high volume from Ford! When Chevrolet comes late this year – it will decimate Ford CUV sales. Was it the wise decision to not offer Mercury version of Edge? Probably not – Ford would easily have 25% more sales with little or no investment.Actually MKX is not much different from Edge - so what was the point?
#174 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [savetheland]
Feb 11, 2008 (6:59 pm)
It's interesting that you say you are (or were?) a Mercury owner because of the image it projected. My mom is the same way. She's a teacher and wants a MB SL, but she can't afford it. She won't drive a Chevy or Ford, so what does she do? I'll tell you: she drives a Nissan--and she looooves her Nissans. She's also the type (as am I) to shop at Target, but not Walmart. I think there is still a market for these people in the automotive landscape. For FoMoCo to basically abandon it is premature, IMO.
Now-a-days in America, consumers are developing more sophisticated tastes (see Target, Starbucks, Gucci/Coach/LV, IPods, personal computers...) and it's not a bad thing. I think the Big 3 should realize they really have the opportunity to capitilize over where Toyota is deficient: the number of brands.
About the articles, though, I think what management is saying is that they will be nixing Mercury in a few short years.
#175 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [jkr2106]
Feb 12, 2008 (7:05 am)
Yes, they do seem to be saying that. Their assurance that there are new products coming, followed by examples like the upgraded hybrid and larger Mariner 4 cylinder says nothing at all new is on the way. The Mariner IS an Escape, and gets nothing different, other than some inconsequential trim. Same with the Fusion, er Milan and Mountaineer and Sable. At least with GM, you get to choose completely different body styles among the corporate siblings (e.g., the Impala, Grand Prix and LaCrosse look nothing alike..or the G6 and Malibu...or the Enclave and Acadia, etc.).
I think one of the reasons Mercury has not gotten versions of the Edge or Flex is that sales of Mercury models of Ford vehicles have tanked. Mercurys have never been so closely cloned across the board from Fords as they are now. Meanwhile, Ford knows that the Edge and MKX are already too close in execution. A third cookie from the same cutter for Mercury would not have increased sales enough to justify even the minimal development and marketing costs required.
This is the same story as Plymouth. Chrysler starved the division of new models. Badge engineering got so cynical that the Breeze was almost indistinguishable from the Dodge, and the Plymouth Neon was 100% a Dodge Neon, even using the same name! So Ford is telling us that Mercury is toast. They just don't know yet how to get out of their charade without too many expensive lawsuits, and before they know if Lincoln will be competitive and increase sales enough to no longer need Mercury.
#176 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [jkr2106]
Feb 12, 2008 (7:10 am)
I can't see why Ford has a problem. I believe the new Ford Taurus and its Mercury Sable cousin have very nice interiors. I don't understand why they don't sell better.
As for a "blue collar image", my sister has a graduate degree and works for a major phamaceutical company pulling down $130K+ annually. She has a Ford F-150 and just bought a new Focus. Her husband, who also has a graduate degree and a well-paid position has a 5-speed manual Fusion in addition to his Mercedes S430.
#177 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [gregg_v
Feb 12, 2008 (9:03 am)
This is the same story as Plymouth. Chrysler starved the division of new models. Badge engineering got so cynical that the Breeze was almost indistinguishable from the Dodge, and the Plymouth Neon was 100% a Dodge Neon, even using the same name! So Ford is telling us that Mercury is toast.
That seems to be a problem that Chrysler and Ford have always had. They just couldn't differentiate their models in the same fashion that GM could. GM could spread a platform across 4 or 5 divisions, yet every single model would have different sheetmetal, trim, interiors, etc. But then Ford or Chrysler would spread a platform across only 2 or 3 divisions, yet they'd just change the easy stuff like the taillights, grille inserts, seat patterns, ploodgrain, etc.
#178 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [lemko]
Feb 12, 2008 (9:24 am)
The problem is Taurus and Sable are not "cousins" like Impala and Grand Prix and LaCrosse. They are the SAME CAR with front end and interior trim variations. Same with every other Mercury. Sort of like the difference as I've pointed out before between the Ford Explorer XLT and Explorer Limited. The Sable has no reall reason for existence, except that the Mercury network is still around and while it is, they need something to sell. But with that lack of commitment from the brass, is it any wonder the brand is shrinking away fast?
I agree that Ford covers more than blue collar, though many Ford models do cover that demographic. The Ford GT was hardly blue collar. At times during its existence, neither was the T-bird. The Taurus years ago had the broad appeal of today's Camry. The Explorer was once far and away the most appealing SUV. Ford can do it again, if the will is there. Plans suggest they intend to.
Whether the market will wait enough to allow them to recover any lost ground, no matter what they do now, is another question. They have such a long way to go to come back. The Fusion, for example, received praise and good marks. But most of the competition has since passed it by with better 4 cylinder engines, stability control and better interiors. The business has changed. No laurels resting, not even for a minute. Even the Camry is starting to come out toward the bottom of the heap in mid-size comparo tests. Ford not only needs the 2009 Fusion right now, but also needs to have most of the finishing touches of the next generation beyond that in the hopper.
#179 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [lemko]
Feb 12, 2008 (10:05 am)
Yeah, they're "nice", but IMO the competition is so much better. Plus, its hard to look at the interior when you must first pass the frumpy exterior. About the blue collar thing, I have nothing bad to say about Fords, just that that is the perception(though the F-150 doesn't carry the same stigma). Of course societal generalizations are rarely true, but for many shallow people (like me) on the coasts we don't want 'regular' cars, because they're not just transportation (if people see cars as transportation, that's their prerogative). I don't think it's bad for Ford to have a "blue collar" image--it is what it is. I just want them to capitalize on the fact that Mercury is available to those who have that perception bias. Why kill it when it's still relevant...probably moreso now than ever?
#180 of 308 Re: Ford's Mercury Has `Changing' Role, Sales Chief Says (Update3) [jkr2106]
Feb 12, 2008 (10:28 am)
Because sales charts don't lie. All the Mercury advertising can't cover the fact that there is nothing new there. It has gotten to the point as Gertrude Stein would say, there is no there there. The Milan may have a prettier grill than the Fusion, but otherwise offers nothing more. As people catch on that Mercury is dying, fewer still will buy, not just because there is nothing new at the sign of the Cat, but because owning a soon-to-be orphaned brand holds little appeal as well.