For Lincoln-Mercury dealer Darryl Wischnewsky in Houston, survival boils down to one thing: getting a Volvo franchise.
Wischnewsky has a letter of intent from Volvo and is awaiting final approval. Without another franchise, he worries, his store -- which will have only Lincoln when Mercury dies in the fourth quarter -- will be doomed.
Meanwhile, he says: "You have to cut all unnecessary expenses. That means going straight to advertising; then comes personnel."
Ford Motor Co's decision to kill the Mercury brand by year end is essentially a death sentence for many of the 276 Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. In most cases, Lincoln cannot stand alone, Ford and many dealers say. Options for Lincoln-Mercury dealers are limited: find a replacement franchise such as Ford, sell out or drastically cut costs.
Many Lincoln-Mercury dealers are putting on a brave face, but few have quick answers. Some hope Ford revs up marketing and delivers fresh products for Lincoln.
"We already have good product. What we haven't had is dedicated marketing," says Ed Witt, owner of Witt Lincoln-Mercury in San Diego. "That's going to make a huge difference."
Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc., has one stand-alone Lincoln-Mercury dealership and is glad that's all. He does not believe most Lincoln stand-alones will survive.
Lincoln "simply doesn't have the brand strength, the product portfolio or the throughput relative to the number of dealers it has to support it as a free-standing dealership," he says.
Ford Motor's leaders acknowledge that some stand-alone Lincoln-Mercury dealers will fail with just Lincoln, but they decline to estimate how many. Last year, 92,299 Mercurys were sold and 82,847 Lincolns. Lincoln's sales trail those of other upscale competitors.
Ford is encouraging Lincoln and Ford dealers to buy others out to establish Ford-Lincoln dealerships. In some cases, Ford has chipped in cash. Ford insists it will not force any deals.
"Our approach will be very consistent with the approach we've had for the last four or five years: work with the dealers, consolidate where it makes sense and go from there," Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas, told Automotive News.