1980s / Ford / German / Great automotive failures / Merkur

Great Automotive Failures: Ford’s Merkur Brand

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The Merkur brand, which Ford introduced to the North American market in 1985 could have been great. However it has fallen into relative obscurity like so many other attempts to sell unique European cars Stateside.

Ford’s then V.P. Bob Lutz saw some potential selling European market Fords as a separate brand in the US and Canada. The “Merkur” brand was cleverly named after the German spelling of Mercury, and was offered at select Lincoln-Mercury dealers. The first of these vehicles to cross the Atlantic was the XR4Ti – a re-worked version of Ford of Europe’s relatively popular sporting version of the Sierra, the XR4i. Karmann in Germany assembled the model. Unlike its European counterpart, which used the 2.9 liter “Cologne” V6, the XR4Ti used a turbocharged 2.3 liter, 4-cylinder engine like that used in turbocharged Thunderbirds of the era. Transmissions were either a 3-speed slush-box automatic or a 5-speed manual. Performance of the Merkur wasn’t bad and was duly noted by the automotive press, though it wasn’t necessarily an earth-shattering model compared to its competition.

Still seeking to build up the Merkur brand, the larger, more luxurious, Scorpio model was introduced to North American market in 1988. This model was also a German-built version of the Ford Scorpio, which had actually been named European Car of the Year in 1986. This model did utilize the Cologne V6, which performed decently; unfortunately, the Merkur version received a ‘softer’ feel to appeal more to the American market. The result was a neutered version of one of Europe’s more successful executive sedans at the time.

By the time the 1989 model year rolled around, the Merkur division wasn’t quite living up to Ford’s hopes. The high-performance Cosworth versions (as offered in Europe) were never offered on either Merkur model. Sales were less than stellar and the cars were expensive. Furthermore, despite being sold by Ford, the Merkurs were not a well-known brand compared to the other European competition from BMW, Volvo, Saab, Audi and so-on. The Scorpio also resembled much less-expensive models Mercury causing somewhat of an image problem. The cost of importing the vehicles was high, and finally, when more strict safety legislation came into effect for the 1990 model year, Ford opted not to bother re-tooling and continue sales in North America. So ended Ford’s attempt to sell some of it’s more interesting vehicles to its home market. 

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