Product Plans Suggest 2012 Tipping Point for Mercury

By 2012, Ford Motor Co. could be well-positioned to eliminate Mercury from its brand family, according to a Ward's AutoForecasts analysis of Ford's production plans and product pipeline. The five plants that produce Mercury's 6-vehicle lineup are approaching critical milestones. But the brand appears to have been left out of their respective futures. Among the product commitments made to the United

By 2012, Ford Motor Co. could be well-positioned to eliminate Mercury from its brand family, according to a Ward's AutoForecasts analysis of Ford's production plans and product pipeline.

The five plants that produce Mercury's 6-vehicle lineup are approaching critical milestones. But the brand appears to have been left out of their respective futures.

Among the product commitments made to the United Auto Workers union in their new 4-year labor deal, Ford promises one all-new vehicle and a “substantial investment” in the Mustang, in addition to the reworked '09 F-150. Notably, no programs bear the Mercury marque.

Against this backdrop are sagging sales and harsh criticism that has made Mercury a poster child for badge engineering and filled dealers with worry. Nevertheless, Ford is adamant in claiming the brand has a place in the market's increasingly crowded landscape.

“Look at what we've done recently — a new Sable, a new Mariner, a significant freshening of the Milan is coming at the end of this year,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president-global product development. A hybrid-electric Milan launches this year as an '09. Meanwhile, Kuzak says, Mercury “brings a new customer to Ford. It's more female, younger.”

Mercury customers may be in the flower of youth — or close to it — but the brand could easily wither on the vine.

When Ford concludes this year's talks with the Canadian Auto Workers union, it is expected to come away with an agreement to close its assembly plant in St. Thomas, ON — exclusive home to the Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car and Mercury Grand Marquis rear-wheel-drive sedans sold primarily to fleets.

The three vehicles share Ford's aged Panther platform and Ward's AutoForecasts predicts their production will be discontinued in 2010 when St. Thomas is expected to go dark.

Ward's AutoForecasts anticipates Ford's plant in Louisville, KY — once expected to close by 2009 but now the beneficiary of a UAW-negotiated reprieve — to transfer Ford Explorer production to Chicago when the SUV is redesigned as a cross/utility vehicle for '11. That means Louisville's remaining vehicles, the Mercury Mountaineer and Explorer Sport Trac SUVs, could retire when their production cycles wrap up in mid-2010.

Despite assurances to the contrary from Ford executives at a dealer convention, some Lincoln-Mercury dealers believe the Mercury brand is in jeopardy.

“Dealers are concerned about Mercury,” says Kip Row, president of Colonial Auto Center in Charlottesville, VA.

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