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|Headquarters||Dearborn, Michigan, USA|
|Parent||Ford Motor Company|
Merkur (German pronunciation: [mɛʁˈkuːɐ̯]), 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.
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 automakers launched Acura in late 1985 with Infiniti and Lexus under development. 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 5mph 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 4-cylinder engine shared with the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and the Mercury Cougar XR7. Sized nearly identically to the Ford Mustang (with higher levels of equipment), 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 alphnumeric branding.
Due to the XR4Ti not using a standard Sierra body and powertrain, final assembly was completed by specialty manufacturer Karmann in Rheine, West Germany. Introduced for the 1985 model year, the XR4Ti would remain 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 as a longer-wheelbase version of the Sierra in order to compete against executive sedans such as the Audi 100/200, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the Volvo 740/760. In North America, the Scorpio 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 bodystyle 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 are well known for being nearly identical to each other in appearance and options. All of them had standard features such as Automatic Climate Control and the optional Touring Package upgrade was included with nearly every vehicle sold. While technically available with a 5-speed manual transmission as standard, nearly every Scorpio was equipped with a 4-speed overdrive automatic transmission. The original cost of a Merkur Scorpio was nearly US$30,000. 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 5mph bumpers and the standardization of the 2.9L V6, which met American emissions regulations and used in the Ford Ranger/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 3-door hatchback, 5-door hatchback, 4-door sedans, 5-door station wagons, and even a pickup truck called the P100. Engines were available from a 1.3-litre 60 hp 4-cylinder, to a 160 hp 2.8-litre V6, or a 2-litre, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled 4-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 would do 0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of almost 150 mph (240 km/h) (and still be capable of over 20 mpg-imp (14 L/100 km; 17 mpg-US) if driven gently). Oddly, the Sierra XR range and the Cosworth models 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 life as a 5-door hatchback, and it later became available as a 4-door sedan and a 5-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" aluminum alloy wheels similar to the AMG Mercedes wheels, a rear spoiler, and additional ground effects.
The Merkur project was not successful in Ford North America's eyes, as annual sales never reached even the modest level of 15,000 units (meaning that at the make's peak, the 800 Merkur dealers would have had average sales of between one and two cars per month). Exchange rate fluctuations were one explanation. Also, the Scorpio bore a strong resemblance to the Mercury Topaz and the similarly sized Mercury Sable, which were sold on the same showroom floors and were considerably cheaper.
A major factor in the decision to drop the cars was the US government's requirement to add either a passive restraint system or air bags for US models since these were not requirements for European models. The XR4Ti was dropped first and the Scorpio a few months later in 1989, bringing the marque to an end.
|Merkur road car timeline, 1985–1989|