DownsideUpDesign

Musings of an Aussie design strategist gone North

Ford Pits New Taurus Against Luxury Brands, hands Mercury/Lincoln a Noose

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Up until now, confusion has reigned supreme regarding Ford’s positioning of the new is-it-premium-or-isn’t-it Taurus and how it relates to the Lincoln/Mercury ranges.

Well be confused no longer because the online ad campaign for the new car, going live on August 4, pits the new EcoBoosted sedan against… the Lexus LS460!

In a move that’s sure to mightily upset the brand guardians at Lincoln and Mercury (if indeed there are any…), the campaign gives a blow-by-blow account of how the butch sedan bests the behemoth from Japan, along with the Audi A6, Infiniti M45X and Acura RL, while being up to three times cheaper.

The Detroit News quotes Jim Hall, an analyst at 2953 Analytics LLP as saying the approach is “smart and necessary”. “None of the cars in its segment have these features… when people think of your car as more upscale than it is, it’s only going to help you when they see the price.”

Indeed! Why bother with less well equipped Mercury or an overpriced Lincoln?

The words home and goal are coming to mind right now…

[Source: The Detroit News via Autoblog]

Filed under: Advertising, Branding, Car, Car Culture, Design Strategy, Premium, , , , , , ,

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.)]

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

Lincoln comes through with the goods…kinda.

Today seems as good a day as any to start the little experiment that is DownsideUp. I can’t promise you much but here goes…

It seems only yesterday that the bosses of the Big Three made their separate ways to Washington to plead for more cash in that most inappropriate of vehicles, the company private jet. It seemed impossible that companies headed by these insensitive oafs could actually produce anything remotely relevant for the Detroit show.

Well, I’ve been proved wrong!

Today Lincoln launched the Concept C, a vaguely C-Segment-ish hatch with a Fiat Multipla-aping 3-abreast seating layout. Of course the technical details are nothing but pie-in-the-sky stuff as far as any potential production version is concerned but it’s the package that really excited me.

Here is an American manufacturer seemingly realising that part of the future lies in downsizing. People who would have traditionally purchased D or even E Segment cars will be looking to get into something more manageable and economically/environmentally responsible but they aren’t going to want to give up on the luxuries, or indeed the sense of space, they have come to enjoy. The Concept C delivers on this idea by having a wonderful sense of spaciousness within its compact dimensions and an interior style and elegance appropriate to a small premium player.

For me the exterior design theme is a take-it-or-leave-it affair that plays on well established Lincoln themes somewhat awkwardly adapted to a radically smaller proportion. As I’ve said, the treat for me here was not so much the detailed execution and more Lincoln’s relisation that it can do small and still retain its values. Now let’s just hope FoMoCo has the bollocks to produce it and the American buying public can see it as a viable alternative.

More info at: Autoblog

Filed under: Car, Concept, Detroit, Motor Shows, , , ,

About DownsideUpDesign

I'm Drew Smith and I'm a freelance design strategist and journalist for the automotive industry. DownsideUpDesign is a place for me to collect stuff that I like, often love and sometimes hate for safe keeping. Get in touch at downsideupdesigner (at) me (dot) com or tweet me (@drewpasmith) to rant, contribute or collaborate!

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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.