Friday, June 11, 2010

Mercury 1939-2010: R.I.P.

Remember your Mercury Tracer? No, how about your Mercury Mariner? Or your Mercury Topaz? Or the Meteor?

Let’s add the Milan, Comet, Bobcat, Elite, Sable, Capri, Villager, Mountaineer, Montego, Lynx, Merkur, and Marauder.

Still shaking your head?

That’s the problem.

Not many were sold.

Mercury never carved out a separate identity for itself. James Dean may have driven one in 1953 in “Rebel Without a Cause,” but that was almost six decades ago.

With but a few exceptions, Mercury was simply a more expansive, rebadged Ford.

Mercury’s had a few successes, but not enough. The Cougar XR-7 was beautiful, derived from the Mustang, but not to be confused with it, unlike GM’s Camaro and Firebird clones.

The old Colony Park station wagon had classic lines, as did the Park Lane. Finally, the Grand Marquis lasted for 2 decades as one of the last of the large, rear wheel drive cars, and commanded some brand loyalty.

Mercury’s most successful year was 1978, when it sold 580,000 cars. It’s next best year was 1993 with 480,000 cars. 1993 was the last great year for Detroit. Plymouth sold 973,000 vehicles in 1993, but Plymouth died a decade ago. Oldsmobile, also history, had its best year in 1985, being the third largest selling brand in America, with 1,066,122 vehicles, trailing only Chevy and Ford. That didn’t save the Merry Old Olds.

Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer also died this year because of GM’s bankruptcy.

Mercury has been on a long downhill slide since 1993. Adding SUV’s to its lineup only postponed the end.

It has sold only 41,600 Grand Marquis, Mariner, Milan, and Mountaineers this year, holding .8% of the market. 92,299 Mercurys were sold last year compared to 359,143 in 2000.

What’s the lesson from Mercury, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saturn?

Simple, one by one, the weaker American car brands are falling to the imports from Japan, Korea, and Germany. The closure of each line represents another failure of Detroit.

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