Mercury promises distinct vehicles, upscale position above Ford brand
By MARY CONNELLY AND RICK KRANZ
Mercury long has sold knockoffs of Ford Division vehicles. But now, Ford Motor Co. wants Mercurys to be more than cosmetic makeovers of Ford cars and trucks.
Under a new plan devised by Chris Theodore, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president of North American product development, the company will place Mercury in an upscale position a notch above the Ford brand.
For example, last week the company said Mercury's new 2004 Monterey minivan will boast a more luxurious interior and a larger standard engine than the re-engineered 2004 Ford Windstar from which it will be derived.
"(Mercury) has been from its roots a derivative product. Mercury will remain a derivative product," said Jim Padilla, Ford group vice president of North America. "Chris Theodore is very, very good at giving it just a little bit of a lift, to move it just a notch up in the market segment and make it a desirable product."
Padilla said Theodore solidified Mercury's mission in the last two months. He made his remarks last week during a meeting with the editorial staff of Automotive News.
Mercury sales were down 11.5 per cent through nine months of this year to 205,841.The U.S. market rose 0.7 percent in the same period.
The Monterey minivan signals how Ford intends to shape Mercury, a brand that has lacked identity.
The Monterey will be positioned above the top-of-the-line Windstar, Padilla said last week in a conference call with analysts and the media. For example, a 4.2-liter V-6 engine is standard on the Monterey, optional on the Windstar.
Al Kammerer, director of Lincoln Mercury vehicles, said, "We are looking at realigning the price positioning of the Ford versus the Mercury to make room for the Mercury and not wind up competing with the Ford dealer."
Kammerer heads Lincoln Mercury product development and sits on the Lincoln Mercury executive committee.
Company executives hit on the upscale strategy after discovering a trove of minivan buyers interested in luxury cues such as wood grain and leather but not necessarily a luxury brand.
"That was a unique opportunity for Mercury," which is sold alongside the Lincoln luxury brand, Kammerer said.
Said Padilla: "We think we know how to derive a Mercury product to make it a desirable product."
The Monterey begins a multiyear strategy.
"We'll follow the Monterey with at least one new Mercury car or SUV every year for the next several years," Elena Ford, Mercury group marketing manager, said in announcing the minivan.
For example, Mercury receives a version of the Ford Escape in the 2005 model year. The Mercury Sable will be replaced in the 2006 model year. One scenario draws a Mercury sport wagon off the Ford Freestyle platform. Another has Mercury choosing a smaller, "high package" sedan based on the Mazda6 platform. The Freestyle is a six- or seven-passenger sport wagon that will debut in 2004.
Mercury designers are striving for a more cohesive lineup, Kammerer said.
"Gerry McGovern (Lincoln Mercury design director) and the Mercury design team have done a good job of identifying the face of Mercury," he said. "Between now and the '06-ish model year, pretty much the whole Mercury showroom will be redone. There will be a lot more consistency vehicle to vehicle."
For example, just-completed customer research on the design theme of Mercury's Escape-based sport-utility indicates that the product clearly is positioned separately from the Ford model, Kammerer said.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....