Merkur (German pronunciation), Mercury was a short-lived automobile brand sold by the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford Motor Company from 1985 to 1989.
Using captive imports produced by the German division of Ford of Europe, Merkur was targeted at buyers of European luxury brands.
After only five years of sales, the Merkur division was discontinued by Ford, making it one of the shortest-lived automotive brands.
|Headquarters||Dearborn, Michigan, USA|
|Parent||Ford Motor Company|
|Slogan||Advancing the art of driving|
In the early 1980s, for various reasons, buyers of traditional American luxury brands such as Cadillac, Chrysler, and Lincoln began to shift their buying preferences towards European-produced cars from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo. As a response, Japanese automaker Honda launched Acura in 1985 with their contemporaries Nissan and Toyota, later developing Infiniti and Lexus, respectively. In its own response, Ford created the Merkur (German for Mercury) franchise for select Lincoln-Mercury dealers in the United States and Canada; approximately 800 Lincoln-Mercury dealers would take on Merkur franchises. Building on the success of the original Mercury Capri (during the 1970s, the most imported car in the United States aside from the Volkswagen Beetle), Ford intended to import cars (the Ford Sierra and Ford Scorpio) targeted toward European import buyers, a market that Lincoln-Mercury did not have any competitive vehicles ready for sale.
When the Merkur name was launched in North America, advertising and PR materials strongly urged the proper German pronunciation of the brand name. Below the Merkur badge was a script stating Ford Werke AG-Cologne, West Germany, indicating the car's place of manufacture.
The Merkur model line consisted of two models: the three-door XR4Ti hatchback and the five-door Scorpio hatchback. North American regulations dictated a number of modifications to the design of the vehicles, which meant that Ford could not import the German Sierra and Scorpio produced from the factory and sell them in dealerships. Major changes were related to the fitment of 5 mph bumpers, lighting, and powertrain modifications to meet emissions requirements.
A performance-oriented hatchback, the XR4Ti (also nicknamed the XR) was a slightly rebodied version of the Ford Sierra XR4i. To meet North American regulations, it traded the 2.8L V6 from its European namesake for a turbocharged 2.3 L Ford Lima 2.3 L four-cylinder engine shared with the Thunderbird Turbo coupe, the Mustang SVO, and the Mercury Cougar XR7. Sized nearly identically to the Ford Mustang, the XR4Ti was also distinguished by a large biplane rear spoiler. As General Motors was using the Sierra name for GMC and the (Cutlass) Ciera name for Oldsmobile, Merkur chose its alphanumeric branding.
Due to the XR4Ti not using a standard Sierra body and powertrain, final assembly was completed by specialty manufacturer Karmannin Rheine, West Germany. Introduced for the 1985 model year, the XR4Ti remained the sole model in the product line for three years until the 1988 introduction of the Scorpio. In early 1989, the XR4Ti was discontinued.
Unlike the XR4Ti, the Merkur Scorpio was targeted towards buyers of European luxury cars. As a Ford in Germany, the Scorpio was introduced in 1985 to compete against executive sedans such as the Audi 100, Mercedes-Benz W124, and the Volvo 740. In North America, the Scorpio was introduced by Merkur for the 1988 model year as an alternative for the same vehicles in the United States and Canada. Unusually, the Scorpio was available only as a five-door hatchback (a body style also seen only in cars such as the Saab 9000). While the largest car in the Ford of Europe product line, the Scorpio was sized slightly smaller than the Mercury Sable and Ford Taurus.
Merkur Scorpios included many standard features and most were sold with the optional Touring Package upgrade. While available with a five-speed manual transmission, nearly every Scorpio was equipped with the four-speed overdrive automatic transmission. The original cost of a Merkur Scorpio could reach nearly US$30,000 when fully optioned.
In contrast to the XR4Ti, the Merkur version of the Scorpio was built in the Ford Cologne production facility in West Germany, alongside its European counterpart; the major difference between Merkur models was the fitment of 5 mph bumpers and the standardisation of the 2.9L V6, which met American emissions regulations and was used in the Ford Ranger and Bronco II. One of the shortest-lived vehicles ever produced by Ford Motor Company, the Merkur Scorpio was discontinued at the end of the 1989 model year, marking the end of the Merkur brand.
Contrast to Ford of Europe
The Sierra was introduced as a replacement for the aging Ford Cortina/Ford Taunus, which was a bold move at the time considering that the Cortina/Taunus was one of Ford's best-selling cars. Despite Ford's initial misgivings about the styling, Sierra went on to be the second best-selling car in Europe, second only to Ford's own Escort.
European Sierras were available in three-door hatchback, five-door hatchback, four-door sedan, and five-door station wagon versions, and even a pickup truck called the P100. Engines available ranged from a 1.3-litre 60 hp four-cylinder, to a 160 hp 2.8-litre V6, or a two-litre, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder as fitted to the Sierra Cosworth. According to British government test figures, fuel efficient models such as the 1.6 economy could do 51 mpg-imp (5.5 L/100 km; 42 mpg-US) at a steady 56 mph (90 km/h), and 30 mpg-imp (9.4 L/100 km; 25 mpg-US) simulated urban driving.
At the other end of the spectrum the Sierra Cosworth did 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds and went to a top speed of almost 150 mph (240 km/h) (and was still capable of over 20 mpg-imp (14 L/100 km; 17 mpg-US) if driven gently). The Sierra XR range and the Cosworth models, however, are not viewed as sales flops in Europe, despite individual models selling fewer cars than the XR4Ti.
Like the Sierra, the Scorpio was also introduced to replace another popular model, the Ford Granada. In the UK and Ireland, the Granada name was still used, with the Scorpio name reserved for the top of the range Granada models. The Scorpio started as a five-door hatchback, and it later became available as a four-door sedan and a five-door wagon. An "executive express" in the form of the Scorpio Cosworth was produced, powered by a 2.9-litre, 24-valve Cosworth V6 motor. This featured 16" aluminium alloy wheels similar to the AMG Mercedes wheels, a rear spoiler, and additional ground effects.
For Ford Motor Company in North America, the Merkur project was not considered a success, as annual sales never reached even the modest level of 15,000 units at the make's peak; each authorized dealer was selling only one to two Merkur vehicles monthly on average. Increasing exchange rates of the Deutsche mark led to unstable pricing, with the Scorpio rivalling the Lincoln Town Car in price while bearing a resemblance to the far more affordable Mercury Sable sold on the same showroom floor.
In the end, the largest factor in dropping the Merkur line was the impending requirement to fit the XR4Ti and the Scorpio with either a passive restraint system or airbags to meet North American safety requirements. As their sales no longer justified the expense of the conversion (their European counterparts would not receive airbags until they were replaced in 1994), the Merkur line was discontinued altogether. The XR4Ti was dropped first and the Scorpio a few months later in 1989, bringing the marque to an end.
The Ford Contour would be the next attempt from Ford in 1994 to sell one of their European models in North America, being a modified American-built version of the Ford Mondeo. However, Ford, under Alan Mulally's "One Ford" plan, would gradually introduce European-designed Ford models built in North America to succeed American-designed Ford passenger cars starting with the reintroduction of the Ford Fiesta in 2008, the third-generation Ford Focus in 2012 and culminating in the redesigned Ford Fusion for 2013.