Despite the appealing 2010 Milan Hybrid, the Mercury brand hardly springs to mind when you think "green car".
In fact, it hardly springs to mind, period; Ford's upmarket brand has languished for years with little product and even less attention.
Now that's going to change. Ford confirmed yesterday that Mercury will introduce a new compact car in early 2011, possibly at the Detroit Auto Show, and almost surely for the 2012 model year. Hallelujah.
Lincoln Concept C Reveal - Detroit
1999 Mercury Tracer LS
1997 Mercury Tracer LS
1997 Mercury Tracer LS
At last week's Chicago Auto Show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally was asked by a reporter whether Mercury would be "the Cheshire Cat" of auto brands, just fading slowly away. He gave a qualified thumbs-up to the brand's future and said, essentially, stay tuned.
Now Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, has given more details. He told dealers at the annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) convention in Orlando, Florida, that the first new Mercury will arrive in 2011.
"The trend toward more fuel-efficient vehicles is very important," Fields said. "The trend toward (small) cars in general is coming back." And indeed, Ford has presented data showing that small cars and crossovers will continue to gain market share in the next decade.
Offered only in North America, Mercury sold a mere 92,000 vehicles last year, against more than 1.4 million for the core Ford brand.
The new Mercury will sit on the same platform as the compact 2012 Ford Focus, which offers four-door sedan and five-door hatchback models. Those underpinnings will ultimately spawn almost a dozen different U.S. models for Ford, including the C-Max compact minivan.
And that leads us to wonder: Could the new Mercury draw inspiration from the perplexing Lincoln Concept C show car presented at last year's Detroit Auto Show? A compact Lincoln would be quite a stretch, but a compact Mercury, not so much.
The Concept C's rear-hinged rear doors evoked the legendary 1961 Lincoln Continental, and the 178-horsepower 1.6-liter EcoBoost four delivered a projected 43 mpg on the highway cycle. Its dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission is already fitted to the 2012 Focus.
The new Mercury may carry the longstanding Tracer name, used from 1991 to 1999 on a badge-engineered version of the Ford Escort and before that, on a thinly disguised version of the Mazda 323.
Ford has pledged that future models will have different sheet metal on the same understructures for each brand. Consider, for example, the 2010 Lincoln MK-T crossover, which shares no body panels with the 2010 Ford Flex it's based on.
If the 2012 Mercury Tracer complies with that edict, expect the compact car marketplace to get somewhat more interesting. Especially if the new Mercury shares the high equipment level and expected tight handling of the 2012 Ford Focus it'll be based on.