2011 Ford Explorer gets a facelift, Mercury faces oblivion

A dark blue ford explorer, front quarter view

The 2011 Ford Explorer will transform from a truck-like SUV to a smaller, more fuel efficient crossover for suburban driving. Meanwhile, Ford's Mercury brand faces its demise. Flickr photo.

The 2011 Ford Explorer is getting a new lease on life. The Ford Motor Company’s Mercury brand isn’t so lucky. While the 2011 Ford Explorer has been redesigned for shopping malls rather than mountain roads, Mercury cars are circling the drain. In a new era of less-is-more for the auto industry, analysts speculate that Mercury’s shrinking lineup of vehicles will be discontinued altogether. The 2011 Ford Explorer will be scaled down from a rugged SUV to become a more fuel efficient crossover vehicle.

Ford SUV dominance is history

The 2011 Ford Explorer is adapting as an era of Ford SUV dominance in the U.S. auto market comes to an end. CNNMoney.com reports that Ford is changing the 2011 Explorer to better fir the way people have always actually used it — as a grocery wagon — instead of a rig for the rugged off-road adventure fantasies portrayed in the advertising. Ford sales objectives with the 2011 Explorer were to inspire installment loans for Ford vehicles by better meeting owners’ suburban needs with a nod to the fantasies that make them want an Explorer to begin with.

Ford sales of Mercury rapidly decline

Mercury’s version of the current Ford Explorer, the Mountaineer, is scheduled to be discontinued from production next year. Mercury cars have just four models left, and they are all simply imitations of Ford vehicles. The New York Times reports that Ford is expected to tell dealers this fall that it is phasing out Mercury cars. The 71-year-old brand will be down to just two models by next year when the Grand Marquis fades into oblivion with the Mountaineer. Ford sales figures for Mercury cars total only 92,299 sold vehicles in the United States in 2009 — less than 6 percent of Ford’s total sales.

Ford SUV sales figures trend downward

The 2011 Ford Explorer is a response to the growing popularity of more fuel-efficient, softer riding crossovers based on a car platform. Ford sales figures totaled  only 52,000 Explorers last year and 78,400 in 2008. The CNNMoney.com article said the 2011 Ford Explorer has the underpinnings of a Ford Taurus sedan. Ford has used the Taurus platform for the Lincoln MkS sedan and the Ford Flex and Lincoln MkT crossovers. Using the car-based crossover platform costs less money for automakers because the basic engineering can be repeated with different vehicles.

The new Ford Explorer

The 2011 Ford Explorer will get a front-wheel drive, car-based platform like the Flex. But the new Explorer will ride higher off the ground than the Flex and have various suspension and all-wheel-drive settings for snow, sand and mud. Under the hood, Ford will put a turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and a terrain management system jointly developed with Land Rover. Like the current Explorer, the new version will offer optional third-row seating.

Mercury cars on life support

Rumors of Mercury’s demise have circulated for years. On Thursday, Bloomberg News first reported that Ford’s top executives are preparing a proposal to kill Mercury to be presented to directors in July. The Detroit Free Press reports that it would be difficult for Mercury to survive in its current state unless Ford were prepared to throw money at new models for the brand. Ford sold twice as many Ford Fusion midsize cars than the entire Mercury lineup. Automotive experts say that sales volume is barely enough to support an entire brand.