DETROIT - Spy shooter Brenda Priddy has photos of the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus. I don't think she'll catch any of the 2010 Mercury Sable. With Ford Motor Company struggling to redefine Mercury in its ever-thinning brand portfolio, it looks like the Blue Oval will let its 69-year-old mid-market division fade away, like General Motors' Oldsmobile and Chrysler's Plymouth earlier this decade.
It's not that easy a decision, for the same reason I mention in my last two blog posts on GM: dealerships. Lincoln-Mercury dealers have expected a full line of luxury cars and a full line of midpriced cars for years. Neither expectation has much of a future, though. Ford Motor Company launched Mercury as a kind of upmarket Ford for the 1939 model year. At the end of World War II, it combined Lincoln and Mercury dealerships, and by the late-'40s/early '50s, it was building some pretty cool looking models.
By then, Ford looked to add brands to better compete with giant General Motors. Even Chrysler had Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto and Chrysler divisions. So Ford set to invent what in late 1957 became its Edsel division. Meanwhile, it designed bigger and more luxurious Mercurys to compete with Buick and Chrysler, leaving Edsel to kind of bridge Pontiac-Olds and Dodge-DeSoto.
Before it sold Jaguar, Ford conceded that the Lincoln line wouldn't make much of a luxury export and realigned it to be more of a Buick competitor (or, at least where Buick is heading). Mercurys have been no more than Fords with more urbane grilles, trim and jewelry, but it has been enough to generate sales from some people who wouldn't set foot in a Ford dealership. Such consumers continue to dwindle, though, and the marketing costs are undoubtedly surpassing the benefits. It must be noted that Ford management continues to deny it has any plans to cut the division. Still, Mercury will sail into the sunset about 2012, based on word from sources and a close look at its product cycles. Here's how it looks:
2010: Mercury drops the Sable, leaving Grand Marquis, Mountaineer, Mariner and Milan.
2011: The all-new Ford Explorer will be unibody, but Mercury will get no Mountaineer replacement. And the Grand Marquis will be dropped along with the Crown Vic (the Ford already is fleet-only).
2012: Expected date of the all-new Ford Fusion, which means the last Milan will be an '11 model.
2013: The last Mercury will be the 2012 Mariner. The new 2013 Ford Escape is likely to be accompanied by a Lincoln version.