When the lifeboat is sinking, only one option remains: Throw the dead weight overboard, or all will drown. That’s the cruel choice facing Ford, a company whose leaking sales and too-casual rescue attempts could threaten the entire company. That dead weight is Mercury.
Mercury is the Abe Vigoda of automobiles, a brand many are surprised to learn is still around. It’s breathing, but on life support. Mercury sales have plummeted 60 percent over a decade, from 438,000 in 1999 to just 168,000 last year. Yet Ford and CEO Alan Mulally — ostensibly hired to make the tough calls that the Ford family was too squeamish to make — continues to cling to Mercury.
For years I’ve argued that Ford needs to use it or lose it. Give Mercury the cars it needs to compete, or end the charade and move on. At Chrysler, new Vice Chairman Jim Press, the former high-ranking Toyota exec, is ready to do the dirty work. He’s been streamlining by eliminating redundant models, putting Chrysler on the road to becoming a smaller but more profitable company.
Ford has rightly rid itself of Aston Martin, whose glorious cars did nothing for the bottom line. India’s Tata recently closed a deal to buy Ford’s Jaguar and Land Rover units, two more British luxury brands whose pedigrees can no longer make up for billions in losses.
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