Local effect of Mercury phaseout is uncertain

Area Mercury dealers are divided over how much impact the demise of the Ford brand would have.

Reports this week said Ford Motor Co. is considering shelving the brand that Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford, started in 1939 as a mid-priced alternative between the Ford and Lincoln brands.

"They've been talking about it for a while," said Brandon Steven, who among other dealerships owns Steven Ford Mercury in Augusta. "It's not like this is brand-new information."

Rusty Eck Ford owner Les Eck, who also owns Midwest Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Hutchinson, said if Ford scuttles the brand, solo Mercury dealers will feel the effect most.

"That's going to be huge because you've got a lot of single-point Lincoln-Mercury dealers out there," Eck said Friday.

The only stand-alone Lincoln-Mercury dealer in the city is Davis-Moore. Davis-Moore president Dawson Grimsley couldn't be reached Friday.

While Steven said he hopes Mercury doesn't go away, his Augusta dealership wouldn't be deeply affected if it did.

"Mercury is a small piece of our business out there, l would say less than 5 percent of our business," Steven said. "Any Mercury buyer we would sell to, we'll just sell them a Ford."

Mercury saw its peak sales in 1978 at more than 580,000 vehicles but has been in decline ever since. Ford sold 92,000 Mercurys last year.

"It's a brand that has really lost its relevance to the American consumer," said James Bell, an executive market analyst with Kelley Blue Book.

Bell said that since Alan Mulally took over Ford's restructuring in 2006, Mercury seemed to be the one undecided issue, getting little attention even as the company remade the Ford and Lincoln brands and shed noncore brands such as Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover.

"Ford is doing everything right, now," Steven said. "It's hard to question anything they do."

Mercury never got a twin of the hot-selling Ford Edge crossover or the Ford Focus compact car, for example.

"It's the one thing at Ford that hasn't been decided cleanly and done the right way," Bell said. "It seemed to be this little void that was sitting off in the corner."

Currently, Mercury's top-selling model is the Mercury Milan sedan, a twin of the Ford Fusion.

But while Ford sold more than 75,000 Fusions and Fusion hybrids through April of this year, it sold just 11,800 Milans and Milan hybrids.