Dealers Say There'll Be Life after Mercury; 70-YEAR HISTORY Ford Motor Co. Says the Mercury Line Will Be Halted This Year BRAND LOYALTY 'There's Bound to Be a Few Customers Who Are a Little Upset.'

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Byline: KEVIN TURNER

The 1949 Mercury, with its sleek, sloping lines and toothy grille, was a hit. It even spawned a hit song, "Mercury Blues," which was covered six times by rockers and country acts through 2004.

But after this year, no one will be able to buy a new Mercury and cruise it up and down the road. The Ford Motor Co. announced that it will stop making the brand in the fourth quarter, ending more than 70 years of automotive history. The Mercury division was introduced in 1938 to offer a middle ground between the low-cost Ford and luxury brand Lincoln.

Local dealers agreed there will be life for them after Mercury. Mike Weinert, sales manager at Garber Ford Mercury in Green Cove Springs, said most Mercury models were duplicated by models in the Ford lineup, but there's one thing loyal customers will miss, he said - the full-size Mercury Grand Marquis sedan. Ford doesn't have an equivalent because it has eliminated its Crown Victoria full-size model from its lineup.

"There are a lot of people who trade a Grand Marquis for a Grand Marquis. There's bound to be a few customers who are a little upset," he said.

And there was general brand loyalty for Mercury, too, he said. Some customers who come car shopping will look at Mercurys, but not Fords - several of which are identical products, he said.

Those duplications made up the majority of the Mercury line, he said. The Ford Fusion and the Mercury Milan. The Ford Escape and the Mercury Mariner. The Ford Explorer and the Mercury Mountaineer. The Garber dealership doesn't sell Lincolns, but will do fine selling just Fords, he said.

North Florida Lincoln-Mercury at 4620 Southside Blvd. will be left to sell just Lincolns. But Tom Lynch, the dealership's general manager, said that isn't a cause for concern because the Jacksonville market supports luxury automotive brands.

Plus, he said, the Lincoln brand will benefit from the move because Mercury's resources will be diverted there. That will bolster the brand's competitiveness against other luxury brands such as Cadillac and Lexus, with new designs and technology as well as powertrain improvements, Ford announced.

"Ford Motor Co. will have a laser focus on Lincoln going forward, and over the next four years, we will receive seven all new and refreshed vehicles in addition to the outstanding Lincoln lineup we have today," Lynch said. …