Final Inspection

Collateral Damage

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Pulling the plug on the non-descript Mercury brand may make sense, but Ford better be on guard against the negative effect the move ultimately could have on its Lincoln luxury marque.

And it’s not just the potential volume loss and decline in showroom traffic Lincoln-Mercury dealers will have to weather should Mercury follow Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer to the junkyard as rumored.

As Ford continues to shift products that might have been badged Mercury to Lincoln, it risks further eroding the luxury brand’s slipping market credibility.

Killing Mercury now probably is better than watching it die slowly from neglect.

The product line has been reduced to just two cars – the Ford Fusion clone Milan and nearly finished Grand Marquis fullsize sedan – and a couple of SUVs, including the ultra-low-volume Mountaineer that also is on its last legs.

Mercury has been deprived of Taurus sedan and Flex CUV derivatives, as Ford chose to spin higher-margin Lincoln models from those platforms instead.

At one time a new Mercury Tracer small car had been promised for the ’12 model year, but its future was questionable, and it never sounded like much effort would be spent making the new model all that distinguishable from the Ford Focus anyway.

The half-heartened game plan has slashed Mercury’s U.S. sales volume in half over the last five years.

If putting the Mercury distraction to bed for good means more time, energy and money can be focused on what really matters, it could help Ford inject new life into Lincoln.

But that will require developing a vehicle platform and products that are exclusive to the marque.

Lincoln’s standing in the premium segment has suffered from not having a unique high-end model to build the brand around. Its Taurus-derived MKS flagship is easily outdistanced by offerings from Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. Cadillac sells 30% more vehicles in the U.S. overall, and Lincoln continues to be a non-player outside North America.

Simply marketing thinly disguised Ford models as Lincolns, rather than Mercurys, can’t be the strategy if Lincoln is to avoid Mercury’s fate.

Lincoln needs to move up-market, not be dragged down even closer to Ford.

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

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James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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