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Old 07-02-2002, 07:12   #1 (permalink)
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Mercury hoping distinct look, ‘polished power’ will set brand apart in future

By MARK RECHTIN
Automotive News

LOS ANGELES — Mercury’s future will rest on reworking Ford Motor Co. platforms, but the designs will be as distinct as possible, says Elena Ford, Mercury group brand manager.

Crafting different exteriors will have the top priority, she said. Interior appearance is next, followed by what she calls “polished power” — more horsepower; less noise, vibration and harshness; or all-wheel drive.

“We could spend all our money on powertrains, but without a different exterior appearance, people are just going to call it a rebadged Ford,” said Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of company founder Henry Ford.

As part of Ford Motor’s turnaround plan, company strategists are creating a product plan and marketing identity for the struggling brand. Through five months of this year, Mercury’s U.S. sales fell 22.8 percent from the year-ago period. Sales of the Grand Marquis plunged 34.6 percent to 31,832. Elena Ford expressed disappointment that some Mercury vehicles can be altered only slightly from their Ford Motor siblings because of engineering limitations.

“It’s hard to differentiate a greenhouse, but you can make big changes to the front and rear fascias and the interior,” Ford said, referring to the 2004 Mercury derivative coming from the Ford Windstar.

As far as what design language Mercury will have, Elena Ford said it would be similar in form to the Mountaineer. Lincoln Mercury President Brian Kelley has called it “the sculptured look, urban look.”

She cautioned, though, that it is hard to replicate design cues from a sport-utility onto a sedan or minivan.

“Mercury design will be clean, simple, solid, sculpted and without cladding,” Ford said. “Mercury vehicles will have a family resemblance, whereas today we have a collection of nameplates.”

Though Mercury will base its future on the Mountaineer, it will not abandon its older loyalists who drive the Grand Marquis. Market research shows that “Mercury classics” — as Elena Ford calls the older buyers — see no problem in the marque choosing a new direction as long as Mercury keeps the Grand Marquis.

Other products expected in the pipeline include a version of the Ford Escape sport-utility and a version of the mid-sized sedan Ford Motor will unveil for the 2006 model year.
As far as whether a sporty car like the Cougar once again could find a place in the lineup, Ford said: “We are always open to ideas. Nothing is set in stone yet, but Cougar is a very strong nameplate.”
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