Mercury: Edsel Ford's Original Vision Provides A Roadmap For Tomorrow
As Ford Motor Company begins to celebrate its centennial year, the Mercury brand is redefining its personality and purpose — starting back at the drawing board in 1935.
It was in that year that a project began taking shape in the brand new Ford Design Studios in Dearborn. The project was a decidedly upscale Ford car that would have more distinctive styling and features than were found on any other Ford product. It would compete with the mid-level GMs, Dodges and DeSotos of the day, but not reach the levels of Cadillac or Ford's own Lincoln models.
As the project neared completion in 1938, Edsel Ford decided that the car, at one point to be named the “Ford Falcon,” didn't fit in the traditional Ford lineup. Ford saw the need for a line of cars that filled the existing gap between the Ford Deluxe and the Lincoln Zephyr. He decided to create a new brand, one that would compliment the two existing Ford Motor Company standards.
“The Mercury brand has stood for a lot of things over the years,” says Darryl Hazel, president of Lincoln Mercury. “We're here to celebrate Mercury for its role in the Ford portfolio. That role is essentially the same as it was in 1939 when Edsel created it. Mercury gives customers distinctive styling along with innovative features and an expression of individuality that they don't find in the Ford brand. In price, Mercury products slot into the lineup between the Ford and Lincoln products.”
Edsel Ford himself chose the name Mercury based on the imagery of the winged messenger of the Roman gods. Mercury was the god of commerce who symbolized dependability, eloquence, speed and skill. Mercury cars would be filled with the latest advancements and therefore command a premium price over their Ford counterparts and compete with mid-priced General Motors cars. Ford’s vision for Mercury was added styling along with “improved ride, handling, stopping distance and internal noise.”
In 1939, the first model, the Mercury 8, went into production. The 1939 Mercury 8 sold for $916 and boasted a 95-horsepower V-8 along with more room and comfort than the $825, 85-horsepower Ford Deluxe. More than 65,000 were built the first year.
The formula for success is the same today as it was in 1939. Mercury fills an important role in Ford Motor Company’s portfolio and is a critical element in the success of the Lincoln Mercury franchise.
Instant Success and Decades of Prosperity
By 1942, when production was halted because of the war effort, annual Mercury sales had grown to more than 150,000 units. When the war ended in 1945, the new Lincoln Mercury Division was established. The products of Ford and Lincoln Mercury remained newly manufactured versions of pre-war designs until 1949.
The 1949 Mercury was the first new offering from Lincoln Mercury Division. It also was the first time Mercury received a distinctive body style all its own. The 1949 Mercury was a design tour de force, which later became a favorite of the hot rod generation to come. James Dean drove a customized version in the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Mercury's of the 1950s featured innovations such as the Merc-o-matic transmission and the industry's first sunroof, a transparent top on the 1954 Mercury. The 1960s were a decade of speed and performance with racy Marauders, Meteors and Cyclones driven by racing legends such as Parnelli Jones, Cale Yarborough and Bill Stroppe. The famous Mercury Cougar bowed in 1967 just as the industry was closing a prosperous chapter in its own history.
The 1970s and 1980s were a period of trial for a number of automakers and great automotive nameplates. The large, near-luxury Mercurys of the day were in no position to remain competitive as the fuel crisis of the 1970s gripped the auto industry. The big Mercurys were no match for the compact cars of Japan and Germany.
Throughout the 1980s, Mercury had a number of successes. Still, many of its cars lost the differentiation from Ford products that drove the early success of the brand. Surprisingly, it wasn't that Mercury lacked products to sell, but that it suffered from a glut of nameplates that were too numerous for dealers to properly market and manage. Even still, there were tremendous product hits, including the Mercury Sable in 1986. Sable had unique styling and packaging that made it clearly an upscale model when compared with the workaday Taurus. Together, the cars were credited by many as products that gave the company a much-needed boost at a critical point in its history.
The 1990s was a decade when Mercury was trying to develop a new personality, completely independent of its Ford roots. It added the Villager minivan, which was a joint venture not with Ford, but with Nissan Motor Co. of Japan. The vehicle was far different from the Ford Windstar, but was premium priced. The Cougar nameplate returned on a sporty coupe, which enjoyed great initial success in bringing in new customers to the brand.
In 1998, Lincoln and Mercury moved its Marketing and Sales headquarters and Design Center to Irvine, Calif. The move to California was designed to introduce the brands to the trendy west-coast culture as the company geared up to take the Lincoln brand global.
Over the next few years, Ford added two new global brands, Volvo and Land Rover, to its portfolio. With no need to create another global competitor for its already powerful lineup, Ford tabled plans to take Lincoln global. In 2002, the company announced a “back-to-basics,” product-led transformation plan for its North American operations with a strong emphasis on its core North American brands: Ford, Lincoln and Mercury.
At the same time, Ford announced that it would reintegrate the Lincoln Mercury Product Development group back into the Ford Product Development system. The Lincoln Mercury Design Studio would remain independent and remain in Irvine.
2002: The Year of the Lincoln
2002 was the year of the Lincoln at Ford. In 2002, the entire Lincoln lineup was replaced with new or significantly freshened products. The class-leading Navigator full-size SUV was all-new for 2002. The flagship Lincoln Town Car received a major freshening including, ride, handling, steering, interior and exterior design upgrades. The Lincoln LS received a major freshening and the all-new Lincoln Aviator joined the lineup.
The Mercury Moment
2003 will mark further changes in operations designed to make Lincoln Mercury more competitive today and into the future.
“Our immediate goal is to give our dealers the products they need to get Mercury customers and dealers excited again,” says Hazel. “We want to send a message loud and clear that Mercury is here to stay and poised for great things over the next few years.”
Mercury has announced that it will introduce four new products over the next four years including a minivan, a small SUV and two distinctive new cars. The Mercury Monterey minivan will be the first of the spate of new products. Based on the same platform as the Ford Windstar, the all-new Mercury minivan will feature class-leading safety technologies, fold-into-the-floor third row seats and innovative Mercury features such as forward and reverse sonar parking sensors.
“Our plan is to return Mercury to its roots by embracing its place in the Ford portfolio,” says Hazel. “We will build our future by offering Mercury customers what they want: unique, individual and exciting design, smartly done. A well-equipped car, SUV or minivan that's different from the crowd.”
Moving Mercury Forward
Hazel recently announced another step in Mercury's back-to-basics revitalization plans: relocating the Marketing and Sales operations to Dearborn, Mich. to achieve better operating synergies with its sibling Ford Division.
“It is critical for those of us running the business to be in direct contact with our counterparts at Ford Division and our Product Development teams in Dearborn,” says Hazel.
Yet while the business operations return to their roots, the Lincoln Mercury Design Center will remain in Irvine Calif. It was in the Irvine studio that the next-generation Mercury design was born and will continue to develop alongside advance Lincoln products.
“We've always had a design presence in California, so it's appropriate that the design studio remains in the heart of the trend-setting west coast,” says Hazel.