Commentary

Ford’s U.S. product lineup is in terrible disarray.

Management can’t seem to come up with a consistent strategy and constantly changes the plans it does come up with. Will newly appointed CEO Alan Mulally make the painful moves that are needed? More importantly, will the Ford family let him?

The failures are all too apparent. No B-car in a booming small-car segment. No minivan in a nearly 1 million-unit segment. Four models – Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, Five Hundred and Montego – all aimed at the exact same buyer.

Designers are using el-cheapo badge engineering to make Mercurys and Lincolns out of Fords. And then Ford kills off its best-selling car, the Taurus.

The Premier Automotive Group is in complete collapse. Jaguar barely sold 20,000 units in the U.S. last year. Land Rover, with its extreme off-road capabilities, is locked into a stagnant niche. Volvo has hit a sales plateau.

Throwing more money at the problem will solve nothing.

What’s needed is drastic surgery. Ford now sells only 2.8 million vehicles in the U.S. with six brands (not counting Mazda or Aston Martin). Toyota sells nearly as many with only three. Ford needs to husband its resources and concentrate on those brands that can make a difference. But how? And which ones?

It’s easy to make a case for getting rid of Mercury. Last year sales only hit 180,000 units, not much more than Taurus achieved in its phase-out year. Maybe Mercury could be saved by becoming the outlet for Ford of Europe products. But a weakening dollar would make those vehicles expensive.

Of course, killing Mercury will cripple Lincoln, because Lincoln-Mercury dealers can’t survive without the volume Mercury gives them.

But what do you do with Lincoln? It can’t even figure out what it wants to look like, despite a changing parade of chief designers over the last decade. Besides, it’s a brand with a mish-mash of model names and has no relevance outside the American market. Today’s luxury brands need international appeal.

Jaguar, a truly global brand, is hampered by a mandate that keeps it out of the SUV and crossover segments, effectively barring it from half the luxury market. Land Rover is incapable of making up the difference because it’s too focused on tall, heavy 4-wheel-drive models that are capable of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Obviously, Ford faces tough choices. But will Mulally make them? Could he kill off brands, like Mercury, to which Ford family members have an emotional attachment? Probably not, for now.

My guess is the auto maker will try to keep its brands and burn up all its cash in the process. If so, it likely will be an expensive lesson that only postpones the inevitable.

John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit, and Speed Channel.