DownsideUpDesign

Musings of an Aussie design strategist gone North

Lincoln to hit Weight Watchers. Unsurprisingly, Mercury dragged along for the ride.

Fat_C_Concept

Automotive News (sub reqd.) is reporting that Lincoln and Mercury are looking to rationalise their product range by downsizing existing products and exploring new market segments. Although hardly surprising in the context of an industry-wide trend for downsizing, it is interesting that Ford is applying this strategy to it’s steadfastly large-car near-premium and premium brands.

Lincoln’s intentions were made clear with the delightfully characterful, Focus-based C Conept at January’s Detroit show and AN reports that the next MKS saloon and a small crossover will be moving to the Mondeo and Kuga platforms respectively. So far, so rational and so on trend even if the C Concept making production is “far from definite” according to Amy Wilson, author of the article.

Based on Amy’s intel though, it seems that Mercury will be… doing exactly the same thing! The other Merc will produce a four-door sedan based on the Focus, the Milan will move to the Mondeo platform and the Mariner will share its guts with the Kuga/Lincoln twins. Awesome.

For as long as I can remember, Mercury has struggled to find it’s place in the Ford Portfolio. Positioned as an entry-level premium brand to slot between work-a-day Ford and the once-glorious Lincoln, Merc has suffered the worst evils of badge-engineering, mis-directed marketing (the Milan Voga, aimed at Hispanic women being my fave) and being sandwiched between brands that gave it no room to breath. Surely the introduction of the new Ford Taurus, with it’s premium aspirations, will only cloud things further.

One could quite easily draw the conclusion that Mercury has no reason to live, given that the plans outlined simply call for still more badge-engineering. Indeed, the number of times that talk of Merc’s demise has emanated from Ford HQ tends to suggest that thoughts of Mercuricide have crossed the minds of Dearborn’s strategists more than once. Yet I can’t help feeling that the brand could still be put to some good.

Ford has developed some industry-leading ICE, hybrid and electric technologies and possesses studios of talented designers champing at the bit for a genuine challenge. Could Mercury, as it’s name suggests, become Ford’s messenger from the gods, bringing with it tales of a glorious, sustainable future? Why not allow Mercury to be the harbinger of Ford’s drive-train technologies and sustainability strategies in urban-appropriate packages?

This kind of test-bed automotive brand focused on urban vehicles isn’t entirely without precedent. Autobianchi fulfilled the same role for Fiat Group from ’55 to ’95 and presaged many innovations that later found their way into mainstream Fiat and Lancia products. You may scoff, wondering what place anonymous Mercury has becoming an expression of new urban cool, but let’s face it, what have they got to lose? Certainly not brand appeal. In the 2009 J.D. Power APEAL survey, Mercury sat comfortably in the bottom 10, along with Chrysler, Hyundai, Saab and Suzuki.

Given all the discussions I’ve had with @joesimpson and @charmermark about Ford’s future direction and encouraging a radical shift towards new models of personal mobility, Mercury’s reinvention as a sustainability-focused brand is scenario that I’d like to explore further. So over to you, dear reader. What do you think?

[Source: Automotive News (sub reqd.)]

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Filed under: Branding, Car, Design, Design Strategy, Eco, Sustainability, , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses

  1. The Face says:

    Interesting scenario..I think the premise might have legs Stateside. I’m not sure how the Mercury/Lincoln brand holds up in the rest-of-the-world marketplace though. The sustainability ticket is big, and only going to grow, but the companies at the forefront of the growth (lets say Toyota and VW..) have some providence here, while Ford is attempting to push econetic. Talking to David Woodhouse about the C-Concept suggests there’s definitely some scope for future cross-pollinisation of ideas from NA to EU so watch this space..

  2. drewpasmith says:

    Hey Ed, always great to have your input here.

    Cross-pollination for the C Concept would seem to be a dead cert if only there wasn’t the question of how to brand it. Granted, Lincoln doesn’t have EU-side premium stature, but could you really brand it as a Ford? Small premium is a segment that’s only going to grow and Linc is the only “premium” brand Ford has left.

    As far as Mercury is concerned, perhaps it’s status as an unknown quantity in Europe could work in its favour in that you could establish an amazing brand experience from scratch. It will be interesting to watch Toyota and how they will develop the Prius brand either as it currently stands as a model name, or through the establishment of a new Prius brand.

    It would be nice to see Ford steal the thunder for once though, wouldn’t it? 😉

  3. The Face says:

    Yep – Mercury could establish a ‘new’ EU-centric brand in the premium compact segment. Not without risk, of course, but that niche is there for the taking..MINI is the holy-grail for the OEMs eyeing the premium market, but then they had the luxury of a rich vein of heritage (i hate that word) to mine. And the mini history is, of course, as the original urban transport. I’m fascinated to see what Lexus creates with their rumoured A/B-segment car. They’re the closest thing to a ‘new brand’ that has succeeded, and they have excellent small-car-customisation form with the Scion brand in the USA. Interesting times!

  4. Massimo says:

    Hi guys, possible scenario, but where are the money?…

    Mini, Scion, Lexus, they all been input with huge money to make them profitable and successfull.

    Working with Lexus product planning i can say is all rather then cheap to do these activities.

  5. drewpasmith says:

    Of course, Max, money is always the sticking point and it’s something that Ford is clearly short of at the moment, so I understand your concern here!

    The question is, if Ford has no money to spend on turning Mercury around and revitalising the brand, should it continue to fund such a woefully ill-defined, under-performing brand? I’d tend to argue that continuing indecision on Ford’s behalf will only drain their resources further and detract from their stronger brands. In short, do the job properly or don’t do it at all…

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© Andrew Philip Artois Smith and DownsideUpDesign, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew/Drew Smith and DownsideUpDesign with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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