TEXT OF STORY
Bob Moon: Just a few months after General Motors heaved Saturn out of orbit — along with a couple of other less-popular brands — Ford reportedly thinks Mercury has too much gravitational pull on its earnings. Sales of that brand are down 74 percent over the last decade. So Mercury seems headed for what’s become the auto-industry’s “black hole.”
Marketplace’s Brett Neely has the story.
Brett Neely: The last time Mercury may have been a sexy car brand was when James Dean drove one in the 1955 classic, “Rebel Without a Cause.”
And like Dean’s tortured character, the brand suffers from an identity crisis. John Wolkonowicz is a senior auto analyst at IHS Global Insight, and an amateur car historian.
JOHN WOLKONOWICZ: When Mercury was introduced in 1939, it was to place a middle car in between Ford and Lincoln. Ford was the common man’s car, Lincoln was the premium car.
That strategy used to work, he says, but over time the cars became less distinctive until Mercuries became nothing more than “Super” Fords. A Ford spokesman said the company has no announcements about Mercury at this time. And some Mercury dealers I spoke to weren’t worried.
Alan Frisch owns a dealership in suburban Chicago.
ALAN FRISCH: So far they’ve always been upfront and fair with us and I’ve been a dealer for 25 years so if they say they’re going to take care of us, I’m not really worried about it.
But another dealer told me that Ford is trying to “kill” the brand. He said the company’s making it harder to get new cars for his lot — and has offered to buy out his franchise. Detroit car companies have been busy shedding their worst-performing brands for years. In some ways, the bigger surprise to auto analyst John Wolkonowicz is that it took this long for Mercury to get the axe.
NEELY: Who drives Mercuries these days?
WOLKONOWICZ: I do.
NEELY: You do?
WOLKONOWICZ: But I’m an anomaly. I buy inexpensive used cars. Mercuries are a great buy because they don’t hold their value well.
Bloomberg News, which broke the story, says Ford will decide Mercury’s fate in July.
I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.
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