KEITH CRAIN

Mercury deserves a better chance

Keith Crain is publisher and editorial director of Automotive News.
Mercury has been part of Ford Motor Co. since the 1939 model year. Seventy years is a long time for a brand in the car business.

During those 70 years, Mercury has seen some ups and downs, and now it looks as if it's fighting for its life.

Mercury needs a leader. That's one of the problems with modern car companies. Frequently, there is no one person who is the rallying point for a make. All too often, it languishes by the side of the road.

If there is any doubt that Mercury should stay with Lincoln, the folks at Ford should take a hard look at what happened when General Motors killed Oldsmobile. It was not pretty, and it cost GM millions of dollars to dig itself out of that mess.

GM discovered that in addition to the tough state franchise laws across the nation, many Oldsmobile dealers were dualed with Cadillac. Even if they weren't selling a lot of Oldsmobiles, they were keeping the back shop busy with service work that was bound to disappear when the franchise was killed.

Whether or not Ford executives realize it, there is a loyal and strong following for the Mercury brand, far larger than it deserves. But that has been a problem for all Ford Motor brands, so it has to be fixed for every one.

Mercury had a strong image at one time. It was an image of performance, and it kept Mercury at the forefront for many years.

That might be the image that Mercury needs today — not necessarily the highest horsepower but the best performance. That could mean the best mileage or handling or safety. But it would put Mercury a notch above Ford, and it would be a nice fit with Lincoln, which seems to be enjoying a resurgence with its newer design.

There is a long way between Ford and Lincoln, and there is no reason that Mercury couldn't fit snugly between those two brands.

Keeping or killing a brand is a huge decision, and there always are many good reasons to do one or the other.

Mercury has a strong customer base with a loyal dealer body. Its dealers need product. Give them some product, and then give them some time before you pull the plug.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com

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