Jay Leno: It's Time to Let Mercury Go - Article
June 17, 2010 12:00 AM
Just in my lifetime, we've lost Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, De Soto, Edsel, Rambler, Plymouth and a few more. Some of these were independent manufacturers; they were entire companies, not just nameplates. It's always sad, but it happens.
I think it's easy to understand where Mercury went wrong. Its cars often weren't different enough from Ford products. One exception was the Mercury Cougar that started in 1967. The Cougar was like an upscale Mustang, intended for more affluent buyers. It had different, you could say handsome, sheet metal, and they were raced successfully in the Trans Am Series. Dan Gurney drove one for Bud Moore. It was Mercury's Aston Martin to Ford's Jaguar. The Cougar was cool and people wanted to buy them. So was the Cyclone GT around the same time, with an optional 320-bhp, 390-cid V8. But that performance trend didn't continue.
I think the death knell for Mercury really began in the 1980s. Remember the Merkur XR4Ti that they imported in 1985? Was it "merk-aaar"? "meer-cour"? "mer-eeka"? Nobody could pronounce it. And almost no one bought it.
In 1986, Mercury introduced the Sable sedan. It was kind of an upmarket version of the hot-selling Taurus. But even the Sable wasn't all that different. Mercury's problem for years has been that the brand hasn't distinguished itself enough, or if they did, they didn't do it very well. Why would anybody want to pay more for what was basically a Ford with a few different trim pieces and more sound deadener?
With the possible exception of the Mercury Marauder in 2003 and 2004—kind of a hot-rodded, blacked-out Grand Marquis with a loud exhaust system and improved suspension—I can't think of a modern Mercury I'd want to own.
It's like Saab. That brand completely lost its uniqueness, especially after General Motors started building them as Opels. In their heyday, Saabs were clever, quirky and quick, with turbochargers and lots of entertaining torque steer. Saabs had their own distinctive Swedish styling, whether you liked it or not. But there was nothing Saab-y about them after GM took over—and sales dropped.
I understand that Mercury sold fewer than 93,000 cars last year. GM's dropped Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer, and they're doing better because they can concentrate on making the surviving brands different. Mercury lost its individuality, and that's why it's going to disappear.
By Jay Leno
Via: Published in the June 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics.