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Old 01-29-2003, 07:37   #1 (permalink)
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Lincoln Mercury Division's Leader Keeps the Faith for Stronger Performance

AutoMobile Magazine
The Kansas City Star, Mo. - January 28, 2003

Jan. 28--Darryl Hazel expects domestic auto sales to be flat in 2003, but he believes Lincoln Mercury is positioning itself for a stronger performance in the coming years.

Hazel, president of Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury division, was in Olathe last week to mark the opening of Sunflower Lincoln Mercury.

Last July, Ford appointed Hazel, a longtime executive with the automaker, to reinvigorate the Lincoln and Mercury brands, which have suffered a sales slump the past two years. Combined, the number of Lincoln and Mercury vehicles sold last year dropped by 12 percent from 2001.

In an interview last week, Hazel said he believed the division was moving in the right direction.

"Ford Motor Co. has identified a back-to-basics theme for itself," he said. "I couldn't agree with that more. It's applicable to Lincoln Mercury. Ford can't achieve its goals without success at Lincoln Mercury."

Lincoln Mercury is hoping a series of new vehicles, beginning with the 2004 Mercury Mountaineer minivan, will spur more interest in its vehicles, particularly with younger consumers.

Hazel said Mercury would be launching a sport-utility vehicle similar to the Ford Escape in the 2005 model year, and two new Mercury sedans will follow that.

"The breadth of Lincoln Mercury is large," he said. "The Grand Marquis and Town Car are for our traditional buyers, but just as integral are the Navigator, Aviator and Mountaineer. Those products are very attractive for the sophisticated, up-and-coming consumers."

But it's a balancing act for Lincoln Mercury between the two niches, Hazel acknowledged. The division recently renewed its emphasis on the Mercury Grand Marquis with more advertising and an incentive plan.

"It does present a challenge for us," he said. "We don't want to walk away from our traditional customers."

An industry analyst said it would be a long process to revive the Lincoln Mercury brands.

"Lincoln is the bigger problem right now because of the tremendous competition in luxury cars," said David Cole, president of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. "It's just a nightmare of a market segment."

Cole said he did not believe rumors in recent years that Ford would abandon Mercury the way General Motors Corp. decided to discontinue Oldsmobile.

"Mercury's products have been very complementary to Ford's," he said. "What that does is give Ford added value at a relatively low cost."

Although it may take time with new products and changes in its manufacturing systems, the Lincoln Mercury division should make strides this decade, Cole said.

"Three or four years ago, it started to get in trouble," he said. "But they now have the capability to pull it together with the new management team that has come in under (chief executive) Bill Ford."
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