LONDON - Lincoln's model lineup will expand at the expense of Mercury, said the head of Ford Motor Co.'s luxury brands.
Wolfgang Reitzle, chairman of Ford's Premier Automotive Group, said Ford doesn't plan to kill Mercury. 'But we want to shift our main focus and a lot of the customers' attention from Mercury to Lincoln,' he said.
'Our aim is to grow in the premium segment. Therefore you will see the model range of Lincoln expand and the one of Mercury shrink,' Reitzle said.
Reitzle also said in an interview that Jaguar is getting a new advertising slogan, and that a decision to sell Lincolns in Europe is still on hold.
Reitzle declined to provide more details about Mercury's future. But the brand's long-term future is in doubt.
Reitzle's comments point to a future in which the company bulks up Lincoln's lineup and starves Mercury. DaimlerChrysler followed a similar path by expanding the Chrysler brand and deciding to kill Plymouth this fall.
Lincoln's future-product plans, drawn from supplier, company and union sources, call for up to three new trucks in the next few years. The 2001 Lincoln Blackwood will mate a four-door Navigator cabin to a cargo bed.
In the 2002 or 2003 model year, Lincoln also may market a luxury sport-utility based on a redesigned Ford Explorer platform and a luxury sport wagon designed to fight the Lexus RX 300. The sport wagon would be a longer model derived from the new U204 platform underpinning the Ford Escape.
NO NEW NAMEPLATES
One high-ranking Ford Motor executive said in October that the company was studying whether to kill Mercury.
The dilemma is that the brand is quite profitable and sales are solid. Through 11 months this year, Mercury sold 406,647 vehicles, up 8.2 percent compared with the same period of 1998. Still, extending the brand's offerings isn't in the cards.
'A new nameplate probably isn't going to happen,' said Tom Mattia, Lincoln Mercury's director of communications. Mercury's strategy is to concentrate on its four core products, the Mountaineer, Cougar, Grand Marquis and Sable.
'The expansion of our Lincoln Mercury product line is certainly going to come from Lincoln,' Mattia said.
Lincoln's growing lineup is OK by Joe Chavara, incoming chairman of the Lincoln Mercury dealer council. 'We will focus better' on the Lincoln brand, he said. 'Mercury was trying to do too much.'
The company's examination of Mercury is part of Ford's 'brand bible,' a detailed description of the position of each of the company's brands.
The brand bible, which was completed this fall, specifies the brand characteristics for Ford, Mazda, Mercury, Volvo, Jaguar, Lincoln and Aston Martin. Ford released brief versions of the brand positions a year ago.
'The idea was to avoid overlaps between the brands,' Reitzle said. 'We want them to complement each other rather than compete against each other. I think we have achieved that by giving each brand a specific function within Ford.'
Reitzle said each division worked out the specific brand values for the brand bible.
Marketing slogans have been set for each brand, as well as key words to explain the focus for product developers.
Reitzle said Volvo's slogan, 'Safety `For Life,' ' which was launched this autumn, stands for an active lifestyle; for functional, practical solutions; for reliability and high value; and for Scandinavian design.
'Safety continues to be one of Volvo's main brand values, but it will no longer be the only one,' he said. ' `For life' expresses that a Volvo not only provides the best chances of surviving a crash but also nurtures life inside the car.'
Jaguar is getting a new slogan, too: 'The Art of Performance.' In North America, Jaguar currently uses, 'The Blending of Art and Machine.'
Catherine Kovach, a Jaguar spokeswoman in Mahwah, N.J., said it is not clear when North American advertising will switch.
Jaguar's key words are sportiness, style, elegance and fine esthetics.
Aston Martin is 'the most exclusive club,' according to the brand bible.
Reitzle wants to make the brand a synthesis of tradition and technology, combining understated design with high-tech feel.
'Aston Martin will spearhead the latest technology,' he said. 'It will be a supermodern, rolling high-tech laboratory. We want to leave the heavy English tradition behind and steer the brand toward the most modern lightweight techniques.'
EURO LINCOLN ON HOLD
The slogan for Lincoln is 'American luxury.' It stands for generous space and roominess, excellent comfort, user-friendliness and automation of many functions to make driving as easy as possible.
'In this class only the highest quality standards apply,' Reitzle said. 'And rear-wheel-drive is essential too.'
Lincoln cars are not sold in Europe, and won't be until 2002 at the earliest. Although Ford has said in the past that it is interested in selling Lincolns in Europe, Reitzle said no decision has been made to import the brand.
'To successfully enter the European market, Lincoln first would need more than one model family,' he said. 'It also needs a model range that would meet the expectations and taste of European customers, and it needs to meet European premium-car quality standards. All these conditions must be fulfilled before we can think about launching the Lincoln brand in Europe.'
Staff Reporters Mary Connelly and Michael Woodyard contributed to this report