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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Mercury's end lifts Lincoln

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Mercury's end lifts Lincoln

Now, Ford can focus on expanding lineup to restory luxury brand

BY MARK PHELAN

FREE PRESS AUTO CRITIC

Ford launched a dramatic effort to restore Lincoln's status as one of the world's great luxury brands Wednesday when it announced it would mothball its underperforming Mercury brand.

The Dearborn automaker will now devote unprecedented resources to expanding Lincoln's lineup with new models, style and technology.

Despite posting a $2.1-billion profit in the first quarter of this year, Ford followed in the footsteps of rivals who've eliminated weak brands to concentrate on prestigious luxury nameplates and strengthen the entire company.

Ford will now use resources that would have gone to Mercury to expand Lincoln's lineup of luxury models with seven new or significantly reworked vehicles in the next four years, including the brand's first premium compact.

Ford announced Mercury's demise while revealing that its U.S. sales were up 30.3% so far this year -- making Ford the top performer among major automakers.

Mercury's death lifts Lincoln

It's time for Lincoln to stand and deliver.

Let's face it: If Ford hadn't announced it was closing Mercury, nobody might have noticed the brand's departure. It's been decades since Mercury was anything more than a way to spread Lincoln dealers' overhead over more cars.

Lincoln hasn't set the world on fire either, but it lives to fight another day.

Lincoln and Mercury haven't contributed much to Ford's success this year. Ford-brand sales have surged 33.8% -- 178,057 vehicles -- through May. Lincoln and Mercury are up 8,189 sales, about 11.5%.

Lincoln and Mercury accounted for a total of just 175,146 sales in 2009. Chevrolet sold nearly that many vehicles last month.

The money and talent Ford would previously have spent freshening Mercury's modest model line will now be dedicated to turning Lincoln into a serious competitor for the likes of Cadillac and Lexus, Ford president of the Americas Mark Fields said as he announced Mercury's demise Wednesday.

Ford's track record of managing multiple brands does not inspire great confidence in that plan. Engineers and executives who got distracted by luxury brands nearly ruined the company earlier in this decade. They obsessed on Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo while the bread-and-butter Ford brand fell into disrepair.

The company's surging sales and profits this year result from an intense focus on the Ford brand. Ford vehicles offer technology and features you can't find on some luxury models, for thousands of dollars less.

Now Ford has to prove it can create great cars and trucks for both the Ford and Lincoln brands. Lincoln is to get seven all new or substantially updated vehicles over the next four years. They'll all have unique looks and features, a far cry from the recent past when a Lincoln was frequently just a Ford with more chrome and better leather.

The plan includes a compact vehicle, the likes of which Lincoln has never sold before. There will also be new engines and unique technologies to complement the excellent interiors and arresting looks of recent Lincolns.

Nobody expected much of Lincoln for years, because it was clear Ford wouldn't invest much thought or effort into the brand.

That just changed. Starting today, Lincoln has to live up to a higher set of expectations.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100603/COL14/6030368/1210/business01/Mercurys-end-lifts-Lincoln&template=fullarticle

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