Mercury had all the hallmarks of an American car brand on death's door: a frumpy image, declining sales, a thin lineup of models and no clear path toward relevance. And so, in the wake of another disappointing sales month (down 10.7 percent to 9,128 vehicles), Ford has decided to shutter it for good.
I have to admit, I felt a twinge of sadness when GM started its brand phaseouts of Oldsmobile and Pontiac, which produced two of my favorite muscle car models of all time, the Olds 442 and the Pontiac GTO. And the turmoil with Saab, Volvo, Jaguar and a host of others has made for some depressing headlines recently.
But the only reaction I had to this news was, "What took you so long?" Maybe I've been desensitized by the chaos in the auto industry over the last few years, but I can't summon an ounce of nostalgia for Mercury. To start with, I've never thought much of the brand. In my lifetime, the vast majority of Mercury models have just been rebadged, slightly uglier versions of Ford's dowdiest cars -- who could get all nostalgic about the Sable, the Mountaineer or the Mystique?
And I will always remember the aesthetic nightmare that was my college buddy's Mercury Topaz (with stylish vinyl-covered top). Not only was it one of the homeliest cars I've ever seen, but with barely 30,000 miles on it, it began leaking antifreeze at such a prodigious rate that he had to carry not one but two jugs of antifreeze with him at all times to keep from being stranded.
But beyond that, the economics of the move are solid. Mercury is currently offering just four models, all of them rebadges of current or past Ford models: the Milan, the Mountaineer, the Mariner and the Grand Marquis. Together Lincoln, Mercury and Ford sold 192,258 vehicles last month; Mercury's 9,128 sales work out to just under 5 percent of that total. That doesn't seem to be enough to justify its continued existence, especially when you realize Mercury's sales peaked in 1978.
You can look at these numbers and say Lincoln sold even fewer cars, but Ford has plans to resurrect it as a premium brand in the coming years, and it will likely divert some of the resources it was spending on Mercury to make that happen. Dealers won't be happy, as they rarely ever are when a nameplate is scrapped, but Ford has apparently promised it will replace the lost Mercury models with a wider range of Lincolns.
All in all, this seems like a smart move by Ford, and, I hope, an end to the Detroit practice of slapping two or three different nameplates on the exact same vehicle and trying to pass them off as different somehow.
Maybe there's something I'm missing here. Will you miss Mercury, or do you agree this move was long overdue?