Beginning in the 2000 model year, Ford of Canada Ltd. will franchise its 600 dealerships under a single brand name - Ford.
All Canadian dealerships will bear the Ford name and the division's blue oval logo, although vehicles sold in the stores will still be badged Ford, Lincoln and Mercury.
Ford said it wants to simplify distribution in Canada.
Ford's willingness to overhaul automotive retailing in Canada is the latest move by a company intent on changing how its cars and trucks are sold worldwide. For example, Ford is consolidating dealerships in various global markets, including medium-sized metropolitan areas in the United States.
In addition, Ford marketers globally are trying to create awareness that its six brands - Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar, Mazda and Aston Martin - are members of the Ford family. Ford is housing all its brands under one roof in Canada just as it does in consolidated markets in the United States.
PARING THE LINEUP
Mercury's product lineup in Canada will be pared to two nameplates, the Grand Marquis and the Cougar, as part of the streamlining, Ford of Canada said in announcing the moves last week. The Mercury Mystique and the Mercury Sable will be dropped in Canada at the end of the 1999 model year. At the same time, the Ford Contour and the Ford Contour SVT will be dropped in Canada.
The Mercury Mountaineer has never been sold in Canada. The Mercury Villager was dropped from the lineup at the end of the 1998 model year.
Mercury officials deny that the changes weaken Mercury's brand image.
'The brand will be as strong as the products we offer,' said Lincoln Mercury spokesman Tom Mattia. 'Today, both the Cougar and the Grand Marquis live up to their brand promise. As we develop more Mercury products, they will be in Ford of Canada showrooms.'
Paring the product lineup also will create room for additional products from Ford of Europe, Mattia said. There is more affinity between the Canadian and European markets than between the Canadian and U.S. markets, he said.
No dealerships will close because of the changes, Mattia said.
Ford of Canada acted following a study that showed its current franchise structure confuses consumers.
'On average, over 80 percent of the vehicles sold in a Mercury dealership carry the Ford brand. In some areas, it is as high as 90 percent,' said Ford of Canada President Bobbie Gaunt in the company's announcement. That co-mingling of brands left consumers confused about where to shop and obtain warranty and repair work, she said.
U.S. NOT AFFECTED
The changes will not affect Lincoln Mercury in the United States, said Jack Straub, dealer principal at Straub Lincoln Mercury in Keyport, N.J., and chairman of the Lincoln Mercury National Dealer Council.
'I don't think it has an effect on us here in the U.S. because Canada is so different,' Straub said. 'Lincoln and Mercury are sold alongside Ford right now. They distribute completely differently than we do here.'
Larry Wind, president of Woltz & Wind in Pittsburgh and vice chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council, said the Contour will be sold in the United States for at least another year, despite being discontinued in Canada. During recent winter dealer meetings with Ford executives, dealers were told the Contour will continue to be offered into the spring of 2000, Wind said.
Ford plans to replace the Escort - and eventually the Contour -with the Focus small-car line, which goes on sale this fall.
Keith Coulter, president of Colony Lincoln Mercury Sales Ltd. in Brampton, Ontario, said in the short-term the new plan 'could be very disruptive. But in the long-term it may not be all bad and may be a good idea.'
'The greatest immediate concern is the proximity of dealerships selling an identical product line,' he said. The local Ford dealership is within sight of his store.
'All dealers are concerned that possibly there wasn't as much research done in advance as there should have been. And communication with dealers was more or less after the fact,' Coulter said. 'The factory is being very open now and doing their damnedest to smooth things over, but some damage has been done.'
Staff Correspondent Bob English contributed to this report