Ford Motor has only one king: The Ford brand
Lincoln and Mercury always have played minor roles
In that regard, Ford Motor differs from General Motors. Chevrolet is far and away GM's top seller, but it is by no means the be-all and end-all of the GM universe. Buick, Pontiac, Cadillac and the rest of the brands are much more important cogs in the GM gearbox than Lincoln and Mercury are, ever have been or likely ever will be at Ford.
Ford Motor had an up-and-down history during its first half-century. It started slowly, then caught fire with the Model T and ruled the industry for 20 years. The Model A was no Model T, and subsequent cars left Ford in Chevrolet's wake from the 1930s to the 1990s. Now Ford is back on top in sales.
On the management and financial sides, Ford went from fair to awful to mighty darn good.
The awful dates to the 1940s. Ford Motor Co. was losing millions of dollars a month and had no idea why. It was taking in tens of millions a month and wasn't quite sure where it came from. Ford Motor Co. had no cost accounting system.
That was the situation that Ernest Breech and Lewis Crusoe faced when they came to Ford in 1946. Both were veteran GM executives who moved to Ford from Bendix Aviation Corp. Crusoe, a GM-trained finance guy, was tough and brilliant. He got Ford into cost accounting (that's right, Crusoe - not the Whiz Kids) and probably saved the company.
In Ford: Decline and Rebirth, Allan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill recount that early in their Ford careers, the Whiz Kids "asked an official in the controller's office what the financial results would be six months later and received the reply, 'What do you want them to be?' The Whiz Kids were amused, amazed and scandalized. It seems that financial records could be juggled to produce whatever result was desired."
Not under Crusoe, by George! To him, numbers were sacred. No juggling, no cooking the books. Just plain - and in Ford's case, brutal - facts. Crusoe got the financial side under control and helped the Whiz Kids institute the standardized business controls and procedures for which they are rightfully praised.
The divisions appear
Along the way, Ford Motor adopted divisional operations: Lincoln-Mercury in 1945 and Ford Division in 1949. Crusoe was the first general manager of Ford Division.
In 1952, as the company approached its 50th anniversary, Henry Ford II called on John R. Davis and a few others to point out the path the company should follow for perhaps the next 50 years. Davis had helped Edsel Ford introduce the Mercury as a 1939 model.
Almost halfway through their book, The Fords: An American Epic, Peter Collier and David Horowitz arrive at what they call "the pivotal moment in the postwar history of the Ford Motor Co."
That moment was the creation of the Davis Committee. The verdict today, from the perspective of a half century: great expectations, but not much in the way of accomplishment. "Pivotal" seems to be an awfully strong word in view of the achievements of the Davis Committee. Had its ideas been successful, it would have been pivotal. But looking back today, it was just another unsuccessful effort to match GM.
To some, it must have been a surprise that Henry II expected another 50 years.
"You've got to remember," Davis later was quoted in Ford: Decline and Rebirth, "that when young Henry came in here, the company was not only dying, it was already dead, and rigor mortis was setting in."
Edsel Ford, company president since 1919, had died in 1943. His father, aged and ailing, took over until Henry II became president in 1945. Almost immediately, Henry II challenged and defeated his grandfather's trusted lieutenant, Harry Bennett.
Henry II recognized the need to modernize and decentralize. He turned to Ernest Kanzler, his father's brother-in-law and longtime friend, for advice. Kanzler encouraged him to hire former GM Vice President Breech, who left his job as president of Bendix Aviation to become Ford's executive vice president.
Breech persuaded Crusoe and Harold Youngren to come with him. Ford already had hired a group of former Army Air Force officers, who became famous as the Whiz Kids (see story on Page 134) for the way they reorganized many of the company's long-outdated business practices. Among those "kids" were future Ford Motor presidents Robert S. McNamara and Arjay Miller.
Henry II also decided to hire 50 college graduates each year, though his first class, the class of 1945, grew by one at the insistence of its 51st member, Lee Iacocca, an engineer fresh out of Lehigh University.
As postwar production resumed, Ford was third among the Big 3, but Henry II was establishing himself and assembling his team, with Crusoe becoming the first general manager of the new and separate Ford Division when it was established early in 1949.
The Davis Committee
Early in 1952, Henry II assembled the Davis Committee and directed it to plot a corporate strategy to compete not just with Chevrolet, but with all of GM and Chrysler, even if it meant such things as adding another car-making division, another car model and a new dealer organization.
Basically, Ford had Ford; Mercury and Lincoln were only minor players in the marketplace. Meanwhile, GM had five car lines and Chrysler had four. Mercury and Lincoln accounted for 20 percent of Ford Motor's new-vehicle sales in 1951. Conversely, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac had 44 percent of GM's sales.
Davis' group was extremely cautious in its report to the Ford executive committee. It carefully detailed the risks involved in being too aggressive and recommended only that Mercury add an upscale Monterey model. Then, should the Monterey prove successful in the marketplace, the committee said, it could be spun off as a fourth division alongside Ford, Lincoln and Mercury.
Changes had profound impact
The executive committee not only separated Lincoln and Mercury into separate units but also decided to revive the Continental brand. It may have seemed simple enough, but the aftermath involved widespread changes within the company.
On one hand, it appeared that the Ford family was re-emerging; Henry II's younger brother, Benson, was in charge of Lincoln-Mercury, which figured to be a big beneficiary of the changes. Meanwhile, their younger brother, William Clay, would head a new Special Products Division program that in 1955 would be renamed the Continental Division, which later that year would introduce the brilliant Continental Mark II.
Overall, the great experiment bombed. Mercury and Lincoln became separate divisions, as did Continental. But in 1957, Lincoln and Mercury were recombined and the stately and distinctive Continental Mark II was history.
Charles Webb said in The Standard Catalog of American Cars that the 1958 Continental "bore as much resemblance to the 1956-57 model as a thoroughbred Kentucky Derby winner does to TV's Mr. Ed, the talking horse."
Collier and Horowitz wrote, "The Davis Committee seemed to have elevated Benson and Bill to positions of importance.'' At another point, they say: "A cautious step had been taken toward a deeper penetration into GM's virtual monopoly of the middle-priced market by beefing up the Mercury. A luxury car had been created for the company. All this happened at a critical juncture in Ford history - a time when the corporation was finally going public."
But instead of the younger Fords joining Henry II in a triumvirate, the restructuring would present the company's many managers with opportunities to advance their own projects and careers.
Crusoe championed a new roadster, and for a while the Thunderbird outsold Chevrolet's Corvette 3-to-1. Later, the Mustang would become one of the automotive success stories of the second half of the century. Some of the Ford managers invested their time and money into a fuel-efficient (but stillborn) compact car project. Others pushed for another new near-luxury model.
New platform plan
In the meantime, 98 percent of the company's car production was based on a single Ford platform, much as it had been at first with the Model T, then with the 1932 Ford and later the 1949 Ford. Finally, in 1955, the board approved F.C. Reith's proposal for a six-pronged automotive marketing effort based on three platforms, each produced in lower- and higher-priced versions. Unfortunately for Ford Motor, the platform would be the so-called E-car program. A year later the Special Products Division was renamed, and in 1957, the new division introduced its product line: the Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation - the four series of the Edsel.
In 1958 and 1959, Lincoln-Mercury was the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln Division, but the woes of the Edsel line are treated elsewhere.
A parade of nonfamily members would succeed Henry II, and they would continue to alter and expand the corporate car-building structure. Those successors would acquire Mazda, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. By the time William Clay Ford's son, Bill, returned the family to the CEO post, Ford and Mazda were the company's main brands (Ford owns one-third of Mazda, enough for control). The luxury models were grouped under the Premier Automotive Group banner and were operating from new headquarters in Southern California and England.
Mercury continues to limp along; sales dropped 40 percent from 1999 through 2002. Ford Motor insists that Mercury is here for the long haul.
Lincoln was plucked from L-M Division and became part of PAG. Then Lincoln was returned to the North American Group. L-M moved to California in 1998. It returns to Michigan this summer.
The Ford brand still is the king. It had 82.5 percent of the company's new-vehicle sales last year. That left just 17.5 percent for Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin, its other wholly owned brands.
You can reach Larry Edsall at email@example.com.