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It's a question few are asking the day after Ford announced that Mercury – named after the "messenger of the gods" in Roman mythology – would wind down production after 70 years of business. Why? Mercury lost its way so long ago that being shuttered at some point was a foregone conclusion. The only question was when. And now we have the answer.

But that doesn't answer why Ford chose June 2, 2010 as the day to announce the death of Mercury. What's so special about this year and this time in the auto industry that made Ford pull the trigger? Follow the jump to find out.

GM Primes the Pump

First off, Mercury's demise is no surprise given the spate of brand executions over the past year. General Motors killed Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer, and at the final hour found a buyer for Saab, which was also on the chopping block. GM's decision to thin its burgeoning herd of brands was a matter of survival, and so far appears to have been the right choice. The automaker's remaining four brands (Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC) sold more units last month than the eight-brand strong automaker did during the same month last year.

Ford, however, made it through last year's turbulence without government assistance, all while keeping Mercury in tow. In fact, seeing GM go through the process of gutting its brand portfolio must have been a major motivator in Ford's decision to shut down Mercury. The skids were greased, so to speak, and the buying public doesn't appear to mind the killing of historic U.S. auto brands, even ones like Pontiac that have enjoyed large enthusiast followings.

[Image: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty]

Doing Right by Dealers

Killing a brand isn't motivated by slow sales alone. Keeping a marque like Mercury limping along was likely less expensive all these years than having to deal with 1,172 combined Lincoln-Mercury dealerships and the extra production capacity that's freed up from not having to build any more Milans and Mariners. Only now has Ford finally decided that the cost of keeping Mercury around is more than what it takes to swing the axe.

In the case of dealerships, an automaker has two choices when it offs a brand: Pay the dealer to end its franchise agreement and stop selling the dead brand's vehicles or give it something else to sell. Ford is doing a bit both. Each one of those 1,172 combined Lincoln-Mercury dealerships will receive a financial package from Ford that includes payment for retiring the Mercury brand. Since those dealerships would be hard pressed to make a living selling only Lincoln models at the moment, Ford also announced that it will launch seven all-new or heavily revised Lincolns in the next four years, as well as further set Lincoln apart from Ford with exclusive powertrains.

It doesn't appear that Ford has asked any Lincoln-Mercury dealership to close their doors, though we imagine some percentage of the dealer body will use Mercury's death as a good enough reason to retire themselves. Those that remain, however, will have a full line-up of Lincoln vehicles to sell in the near future, and some may be absorbed by Ford dealerships to make combined Ford-Lincoln dealerships.

[Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty]

Extra Production Capacity at the Right Time

As for the question of extra production capacity, it appears that Ford picked the perfect time to stop building its middle marque. Let's take a look at each Mercury model and what will happen when their assembly lines suddenly stop.

Grand Marquis
The Ford Crown Victoria will end production soon, taking the Mercury Grand Marquis with it as well as 1,400 jobs from the St. Thomas Assembly Plant in Ontario, Canada. That's sad news for folks in Ontario, but Ford will be just fine. While the Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis enjoyed healthy fleet sales as taxis and police cruisers, those spots will eventually be filled in Ford's lineup by the Transit Connect Taxi and new Taurus-based Police Interceptor.

The current body-on-frame Ford Explorer is about to be replaced by a new uni-body version built in Chicago. That means the Explorer and its Mercury Mountaineer clone will be kicked out of Ford's assembly plant in Louisville, KY to make room for small car production beginning in 2011.

Milan and Mariner
The Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion (and Lincoln MKZ) are built at Ford's Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly plant in Mexico, while the Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape (and Mazda Tribute) are built at Ford's Kansas City Assembly plant. The effect of ending production of Mercury models in both plants will result in more Fusions and Escapes, which the market wants. Fusion sales were up 13.1 percent last month alone and are up 39.3 percent year-to-date. The Fusion, of course, was recently redesigned, but even the aging Escape is selling like hot cakes with sales up 17.2 percent last month and 36.7% year-to-date.

And not for nothing, but if the Ford ever wants to challenge the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry for the title of second-best or best-selling car in America with the Fusion, it needs this extra production capacity to produce Blue Oval-badged sedans, not more Milans.

Rebadge is a Four-Letter Word

The final nail in Mercury's coffin is the vilification of rebadging. This is that lazy breed of platform sharing in which one brand sells the exact same version of a vehicle sold by another brand but with a different grille, head- and taillights. The differentiation between the two cars is minimal and often the price of one is inexplicably higher than the other, despite equipment levels being practically identical. This has been Mercury's business model since 2002 when its last two unique models – the front-wheel drive Cougar coupe and Villager minivan – ended production. Since then, every Mercury model has been a thinly veiled version of a Ford, usually with a lot more satin nickel trim and an unjustifiable higher price.

There are better ways to share a platform between brands. Volkswagen, in particular, is great at this, as most (first-gen) Audi TT owners have no idea their car shares a platform with the New Beetle. That's because Volkswagen takes the time, effort and money to design different sheetmetal for each vehicle that shares a platform; give each its own unique interior; and tune the suspension, steering, and powertrain for each individually. Ironically, Mercury never got the message, but Ford is trying to do platform sharing the right way now with Lincoln.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Only two people would have chosen that, everyone else would already buy a competent RWD car form a non-embarrassing brand like Infiniti.

      That would be a case of Ford given excellent product to a brand that has absolutely no hope of selling it, like GM did with Pontiac. Probably worse with Mercury in fact.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think Autoblog needs an article on th best Mercury vehicles. Maybe two? One depicting the best Mercuries of all time. The other focusing on the newer models? Good reads in my opinion.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Maybe Ford will make a new model called the "Mercury". That'll confuse people.
      • 4 Years Ago
      all ford had to do was stop spending so much time on their trucks and suv's and put alittle time on the rest of their vehicles! now look! lets take the crown vic, grand marquis and town car for example! their last big update was 1992, yes they have had minor updates since then, but nothing radical! there is actually nothing wrong with the platform itself, but could have used another redesign! they also would have better cars if they would have put the 2011 mustang's new 5.0 liter v8! it actually has better fuel conomy and much more power-about 173 hp more than the town car's dual exhaust (239-hp)! it is sad that people like me who want a big full framed car have absolutely no where to turn now! the crown vic, grand marquis and town car are the last full frame cars out there! and im sorry, but you cant beat the ride of a full framer-i have and 85 grand marquis and smothers bumps very well...i guess i have a reason to keep it now, after all, it is now a collectors item along with any other mercury!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Have you not noticed that Ford has come out with the new Taurus, a totally redesigned Fusion, a new Fiesta, and also a new Focus coming soon?

        What other cars do they need to focus on?

        That's every single car in their lineup either new or totally redesigned in the past couple of years and all have been given good reviews and are doing well.
      • 4 Years Ago
      As far a showing a Mercury and Ford picture with different grilles, you can apply the same badge engineering with some models of Lexus- Avalon= TOYOTA Camry!!!!!!! Also Acura = Honda Accord!!! Same Logic!!!!!!!!

      This time Fords Management missed a big opportuniy to cash in on Mercury!!!!

      Thought when they sold Jag, Aston, Volvo we they would be creating new and a exciting Mercury Products!!!!!

      Does anybody think Building a Focus platform Lincoln is better than building a new Mark Series Rwd car?????

      Does anybody think quiting the Grand Marqius is better than mabe building a new version of it off the Lincoln Mks platform??????

      Does anybody think demoting the upscale new Taurus into a fleet Vechicle is better than creating a new mabe Mercury Cougar XR7 luxury car?????

      Buick Division seems to be heading the way Ford Should have done it, they will show Ford how to do a midlevel car!!!!!!

      The market was still there, Fords TUNNEL VISION approach with ONE FORD is just that!

      Mualally and Kuzak are not Car Guys!!!!!!!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      This would be the cheapest time in Ford history to close Mercury.

      Ford will calculate payouts by recent sales numbers. Mercury sales are at an all time historic low. So payouts will be the cheapest ever.

      • 4 Years Ago
      Really? you care that much what yuppie trash thinks? I live in south Orange County, Ca. and am surrounded by those folks... anyone who thinks their opinion should influence your choice in cars is an asshat.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Flying, it's not a question of what "yuppie trash" buys that should influence you personally or anyone else. But the bottom line is upscale folks do influence what kind of cars are made. Automakers like people with lots of income --- why wouldn't they? Otherwise they would only make Chevy Cobalts (no offense to the Chevy Cobalt -- it's not a bad car).
        • 4 Years Ago
        Sorry - of course the automakers want to court the folks with the most money - I was more taking a stand that consumers that choose the car they buy so the yuppie types will approve of them are sorely in need of a headcheck - around here it seems like people think your two choices in car are BMW or Lexus - fine cars, but I would take the CTS coupe or Jag XF in a heartbeat over them... (if that were an option.. Mazda 5 for me!) theres too much of a Me Too kind of mentality -- its just a little rediculous....
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have owned and maintained over 40 cars in my life and have learned a few things. Germany was building quality when no one else was. The Japanese have surpassed them for quality and relaibility if not performance. The Americans, largely becuase of Japanese competition have stepped up and now Ford and GM's Buick are pretty good cars. I have owned 5 Mercedes, 4 Audis, 2 Porsche's, and one VW. Bosch is the new Lucas. Owning a German car is like having a trophy wife. They are great to look at, fun to operate, unreliable, horribly expensive to maintain and very proud of it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Despise such "journalists" for their ignorance and stupidity: "and the buying public doesn't appear to mind the killing of historic U.S. auto brands, even ones like Pontiac that have enjoyed large enthusiast followings." Dare ask how have you arrived at this conclusion? Based on comparing the sales with last year when the world was ending and only the ones who wanted to blast the money before the end were buying cars? And this year when Toyota finally stumbled and everybody started kicking the it? I had been one of the few loyal to GM, not anymore after the killed Pontiac and G8 along with it. Suddenly nothing in GM lineup current and announced has any appeal, so they lost my and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Face it, the time is right. Mercury is not relevant in any way. Ford has a near perfect line-up. And Lincoln is in desperate need of help. Dump Mercury, reinvent Lincoln. I see no down-side.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I don't think it's that Mercury didn't get the message... I doubt Ford allocated enough money to make Mercury substantially different. They probably did the best they could with what they had. I think Mercury could have worked as a niche brand, with maybe two models at the most... its only problem was a near-total lack of attention from Ford throughout its history. They should have never cut the Cougar, IMHO they should have kept updating it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's been many years since there was any significant difference between the Ford and Mercury versions of the same platform vehicle. I'd say it was somewhere in the late 1970's. GM was also squirting out rebadged vehicles with little variation.

      If however, you go way back to the 1968 Cougar, you'd have a car with the same pan as a Mustang, but with a nicer interior, a better suspension, and a higher degree of fit and finish. Oh, and some very cool tail and headlights.

      By the late `70's, the courgar badge was slapped on a big sled that was the same vehicle Ford was claiming to be a Thunderbird. Mercury was gone a long time ago.
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