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Mercurys Niche at Ford

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Mercury

Mercurys Niche at Ford

Ronnie Tanner
May 5, 2009

The Mercury marque was founded by none other than Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford and namesake of the doomed Edsel brand. It was begun in 1939 as a market entry point for what Ford deemed near luxury vehicles. The idea was to open a slot between Ford’s economy line and the luxury lineup of the Lincoln. The term junior Lincoln was used quite often in conjunction with the Mercury in the early years after its conception.

Whereas most new models are designed on previously built platforms, Fords design team created the Mercury to be a fresh new model with modernized styling. This was planned to coincide with Ford and Lincoln’s updated styling. It had previously been decided that Mercury would exist as a division separate from either Lincoln or Ford but in 1958 decided to market several brands together, thus creating the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division. When the Edsel brand fell flat and was subsequently dropped, the division became Lincoln-Mercury and is still known as such today.

Even though the early idea to launch a completely new platform for Mercury was abandoned, Mercury enjoyed an enormous amount of success in the fifties. This was due in part to the design team assigned to the Lincoln-Mercury division. By stretching and lowering some of Ford’s existing platforms, the team created a model that the consumer really liked and the brand was very successful.

For the late fifties, executives at Ford were hoping to distinguish the Mercury as a brand of its own, rather than a scaled down Lincoln, which is what it had become. They allowed the head of the Mercury design team to give the Mercury make its own unique body designs that were totally different than anything else Ford had in its stable at the time. The Cougar and the Marquis were the most successful models of this full departure from Ford and offered enough difference that Mercury did begin to take on a life of its own beyond Ford. Unfortunately, this distance was not maintained and similarities began to creep back in to the design. By the 1970’s Mercury had once again become closely tied to Ford and this time it suffered greatly because of it. The loss of its uniqueness was felt to be confusing to consumers. Because of these similarities, any brand identification Mercury had developed was quickly eroded and sales began to decline.

Because Ford as the parent company had sustained significant losses in the late seventies and early eighties, Ford was now putting the majority of its focus on rebuilding its image. Mercury suffered greatly from the lack of attention and it showed. By the mid eighties, Mercury had only one unique car in its lineup, the Cougar. Mercury did attempt to rectify this by bringing in a European styled Ford under the Merkur banner but this met with nominal success.

The Mercury division never quite recovered from this lack of focus by Ford. Today the Mercury lineup is only a fraction of what it once was and the models it does have are still quite similar to its Ford cousins. An effort has been mounted to refresh the Mercury image however with today’s difficult economy, the outlook for the survival of the Mercury line will continue to be dim for several years to come.

Ronnie Tanner is a contributing writer at SW Engines. He writes about used Mercury engines and other departmental updates for the company.

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