Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally emphasized the automaker’s namesake brand as he revived the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy. The timing of Mercury’s demise depends on how fast executives can convince the brand’s dealers, who also sell Lincoln models, to close or merge with Ford dealershps, they said.
Locally, the only Lincoln-Mercury dealer on the Kitsap Peninsula, Thomas Lincoln-Mercury, closed its doors earlier this year. Owner Aaron Capps, who also owns Advantage Nissan located across the street at the Bremerton Auto Center, turned the facility into a major used car and service operation.
“Mercury is a forgotten brand,” said John Wolkonowicz, an auto analyst with IHS Global Insight. “Many Americans probably already think it has been discontinued. Mercury was too similar to Ford from the very beginning.”
However, “We continue to evaluate all of our models and brands,” Mulally told reporters in Washington, D.C.. “We have no change in our position about Ford or Lincoln or Mercury.”
Mercury would join Pontiac, Saturn, Oldsmobile and Plymouth among the departed Detroit brands of the 21st century. Sales will end within four years, one of the sources estimated. General Motors, as part of its U.S.-backed reorganization last year, sold or closed four of its eight brands sold domestically — Pontiac, Hummer, Saab and Saturn.
Edsel Ford, son of founder Henry Ford, established Mercury during the Great Depression as a midprice alternative to mainstream Ford and upscale Lincoln. Edsel’s great-granddaughter, Elena Ford, now the automaker’s director of global marketing, initially opposed discontinuing Mercury, which she was in charge of promoting before 2002, the people said.
Doing away with Mercury is reportedly supported by Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford and other members of the founding family, who have 40 percent voting control of the automaker through a special class of stock. With Mercury accounting for 1.9 percent of Ford’s global sales in the first quarter, the family has decided ending it is best for the business, the sources told Bloomberg News.
Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at 579,498. Deliveries fell 84 percent to 92,299 last year. Mercury had 0.9 percent of the U.S. market through April, unchanged from 2009. As Mercury’s sales plunged, so, too, have its profits, Wolkonowicz said. With one-quarter of the sales it had a decade ago, it’s hard to rationalize the line’s continued existence, he said. “I’m not surprised to see Mercury go because they don’t sell enough of them. It’s been a case of benign neglect for years.”
The brand’s cultural heyday came in the 1950s, when hot-rodders favored its engines, which were larger and faster than those under the hood of Fords. As a cultural aside to the brand’s heritage, actor James Dean drove a Mercury in the 1955 iconic movie “Rebel Without a Cause.”