Many agree that the first thing Mercury needs is a strong and consistent design theme. It also will need time. Elena Ford, granddaughter of Henry Ford II, was appointed Mercury brand manager in November. In March, she said Mercury would not abandon its older buyers as it redefines itself - a lesson it learned from Oldsmobile's decline. The average age of Mercury's customer is 62.
Behmer and Simmons hold the title of chief designer for the Mercury brand. Both report to Lincoln Mercury design director Gerry McGovern.
Lincoln Mercury spokesman Jim Cain said their responsibilities are divided among vehicle lines. Behmer is responsible for trucks and for changes made to vehicles now in production. Simmons, who worked with McGovern at Land Rover, is working on cars. Both are working on developing Mercury's design "DNA."
To underscore the importance Bill Ford placed on getting Mercury back on its wheels, Behmer in February became the first person since E.T. Gregorie in the early 1940s to hold the title of chief designer for Mercury. Simmons, 36, who attends classic cars shows and rides mountain bikes in his spare time, joined the division in April.
Ford Motor officials would not discuss the future of Mercury design and would not make Behmer or Simmons available for interviews.
Before taking the Mercury position, Behmer, 40, was chief designer in Ford's Large and Luxury Center, where he worked on Ford's upcoming car-truck crossover vehicles.
Behmer has helped shape the 1986 Ford Mondeo, 1990 Lincoln Town Car, 1992 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable, 1994 Ford Mustang, the edgy 1999 Mercury Cougar and the 2003 Town Car.
Simmons, who spent a decade at Land Rover, had a hand in shaping the 1995-2002 Range Rover. He worked on the interior of the BMW Mini and did early design work on the Land Rover Freelander.
Simmons also had a hand in the exterior styling of the 2003 Range Rover, which has been drawing rave reviews.
Though Ford officials refused to discuss Mercury's future, several designers outside the division say the Mercury design team should look at classic Mercurys for inspiration. Mercury rarely has been noted for head-turning styling. But there are some historical design cues that could be used to develop a Mercury design language.
"Mercury had a terrific image back in the '40s, '50s and especially the '60s with a number of design cues that they can draw upon," said Jack Telnack, Ford's former global design chief. "They can look at the successful Mercurys and bring back some of those grilles."
Those classic grilles include those on the 1949-51 Mercurys - called the "James Dean" Mercurys because of their prominent role in the Dean film Rebel Without a Cause. There also was the "Breezeway" rear window that retracted into the body on some Mercurys of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The concealed headlights and sequential tail signals on the 1967 Cougar XR-7 are two other signature features that classic Mercury enthusiasts say help define the marque.
Tom Matano, general manager of advanced design for Mazda, said two things can separate Mercury from the Ford brand: higher style and technical innovation.
"In the 1950s, Mercury had more stylish hardtops than Ford. Maybe that's the nature of the brand," said Matano, whose company is partially owned by Ford. "Instead of capturing the superficial elements, (Mercury's design team) could go for the spirit of the brand and add some innovation. It needs those two elements."
Analyst Jeff Schuster agrees.
"Strong styling and more horsepower would be going in the right direction. I think if you have some unique styling, had unique features or options you can only get on a Mercury product, then you do start to cut out a unique niche for the brand," said Schuster, an analyst with J.D. Power and Associates.