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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Mercury lagged as it was cut to 4 vehicles

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Mercury lagged as it was cut to 4 vehicles

Public didn't buy that Mercury was different from Ford

Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

While Mercury loyalists may shed a tear for the brand, few others will.

American consumers can buy anything Mercury offers from its depleted lineup at a Ford dealership under a different name for less money.

In announcing the brand's demise Wednesday, Ford executives said they want to create more market space for the growing Ford and Lincoln lineups.

Mercury's future looked bleak even before Wednesday's announcement.

The brand had dwindled to just four vehicles: the midsize Milan sedan; the midsize Mountaineer and compact Mariner SUVs; and Mercury's large sedan, the Grand Marquis.

The Ford Crown Vic, the base for the Grand Marquis, is being discontinued, and the Ford Explorer, the underpinning for the Mountaineer, is being overhauled with no mention of a Mercury variant.

That leaves two models, which do not make a brand.

Mercury was the "tweener trim package" at Ford -- falling between Ford and Lincoln in both luxury and price. That's been the brand's mission since it was created by Edsel Ford in 1939: Fill the void between blue-collar Ford and white-collar Lincoln.

That's something the brand performed well for years, but recently, Mercury has attracted mostly lace collars, appealing strongly to women who didn't want to buy a Ford or spend Lincoln prices.

The illusion of different vehicles could only fool people for so long, and Mercury sales have plummeted 50 percent since 2005 -- the same year Ford started to bolster Mercury's lineup.

When a Ford representative recently was asked what option could a customer get on a Milan hybrid that he couldn't get on a Ford Fusion hybrid. The answer was short and simple: "Nothing."

"Badge engineering doesn't work," said Stephanie Brinley, an automotive analyst for AutoPacific. "People should expect a difference like the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT."

Those vehicles are built on the same underpinnings but look significantly different.

In automotive parlance, the exterior shell is known as the top hat and every carmaker has improved at making top hats different while keeping much of the underpinnings the same. These improvements can save the carmaker money and provide distinctive looking vehicles to satisfy picky consumers.

With Mercury out of the picture, Ford can focus on its true core brands.

Lincoln-Mercury dealers are losing two vehicles and may expect two vehicles to replace them.

Ford may consider adding a compact crossover to Lincoln's lineup, built on the Ford Escape platform, but the automaker has not announced any plans to do so.

Lincoln will introduce a luxury compact car, Ford executives said Wednesday, mirroring a trend among other luxury brands. BMW, Audi and Cadillac have either introduced or have announced plans to bring a luxury compact to the U.S. market.

Just don't expect to see a rebadged Focus when a compact Lincoln arrives.

Those days are over.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100603/AUTO01/6030390/1148/Mercury-lagged-as-it-was-cut-to-4-vehicles#ixzz0pnP5784G

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