It is sad that the list of car names is shrinking faster than the auto makers can close dealerships. Ford Motor Company announced the 71-year old Mercury brand was about to be dropped from its lineup. This was not a surprise to many market analysts, but for consumers it means one less choice for those interested in buying an American car.
The history of the Mercury can be traced back to 1939, when it was introduced as the step up from Ford but not pricey like Lincoln. In the beginning, a Mercury looked pretty much like a Ford; however it had features that made it competitive to mid-priced General Motors cars. The war stopped all auto production until 1946. The post-war cars were pre-war models with some cosmetic changes. Soon after that bold new designs and more powerful engines became the vogue.
Mercury built a bigger car, one that could compete favorably with GM’s Oldsmobile, Pontiac and even Buick, as well as Chrysler’s Dodge and DeSoto. The era of car featuring big fins, tri-colors, chrome and low gas mileage was in, and American’s were buying most anything Detroit rolled into dealer showrooms. During this time lesser brands, such as Studebaker, Hudson and Kaiser, fell from the seen. And, sportier cars like the Chevy Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird were developed with great success.
In the later part of the 50’s, Ford Motors introduced the Edsel at the price level between Mercury and Lincoln. Due to lack of consumer appeal, the Edsel suffered a horrible and swift death. This was followed the next year by Chrysler’s discontinuance of the DeSoto. Following this the US car market went through a period of adjustment during which GM capturing the lion’s share of the business.
However, as gas prices rose and foreign cars offered functional economy, competition entered from both coasts. European luxury cars started to take market share, too. When gas became less of a factor, many US buyers balked at the over-sized cars the “big three” car makers were offering. This opened the door for off-shore manufacturers, particularly the Japanese. With the exception of the SUVs, the US lagged behind foreign producers in consumer accepted innovation for many years.
Now auto makers worldwide are in trouble. Two of Detroit’s own had to be bailed out by the government. This resulted in GM, which had already discontinued Oldsmobile, dropping Pontiac and Saturn from its lineup along with Saab leaving Hummer on the chopping block. Chrysler had stopped making Plymouth earlier this decade. Ford, which has not taken government funds, has also sold off Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. There is talk that Lincoln will try to survive by hooking up with Ford dealers; a move that will close dealerships nationwide.
In spite of these issues, Ford is the healthiest US car company. For American consumers, the passing Mercury marks the loss of yet another proud automotive brand. With this in mind, is comforting to know that there still could be a Ford in your future?