SOUTHFIELD, Mich. —Ford plans to eliminate the 71-year old Mercury line as sales have plunged over the past decade, said two people familiar with the plan.
Ford executives will present the proposal to the board of directors in July, said the people, who asked not to be identified. Mercury would lose two of four models next year and will be starved of products and promotion, they said. One said he expects all sales to end within four years.
Mercury dealers traditionally have also sold Lincoln. The speed of Mercury's demise depends on the company's efforts to convince dealers to continue with just the Lincoln line or to merge with Ford showrooms, they said.
"Mercury is a forgotten brand," said John Wolkonowicz, an auto analyst with IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass. "Many Americans probably already think it has been discontinued. Mercury was too similar to Ford from the very beginning."
Ford CEO Alan Mulally has emphasized the automaker's Ford brand as he fought to revive the company in the last two years.
Mercury accounted for just 1.9 percent of Ford's global sales in the first quarter, the people said.
Mulally also is unloading Ford's European luxury brands, after the automaker failed to achieve a goal to have them generate one-third of automotive profits. Ford agreed to sell Volvo in March, and has sold off Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin over the last three years.
Mercury would join Pontiac, Saturn, Oldsmobile and Plymouth among the iconic Big Three brands that have disappeared in the 21st century, as the industry has downsized, shed costs and consolidated.
General Motors, as part of its reorganization last year, sold or closed four of its eight brands sold domestically.
Edsel Ford, son of founder Henry Ford, established Mercury in 1939 during the Great Depression as a mid-priced alternative to mainstream Ford and upscale Lincoln. Edsel's great granddaughter, Elena Ford, now the automaker's director of global marketing, initially opposed discontinuing Mercury, which she was in charge of promoting prior to 2002, the people said.
Doing away with Mercury is supported by Ford executive chairman Bill Ford and other members of the founding family, who have 40 percent voting control of the automaker through a special class of stock, the people said.
"Edsel Ford is revered in the family and Mercury was his creation," said Wolkonowicz, a former Ford product planner. "This is the end of an era."
"Our plans regarding Mercury have not changed," said Mark Truby, a Ford spokesman.
Mercury sales peaked in 1978 at 579,498, when it had the slogan "The Sign of the Cat." Deliveries fell 84 percent to 92,299 last year.
As the U.S. auto market recovers, Mercury's sales are up 23 percent this year through April, less than Ford Motor's overall gain of 33 percent, according to researcher Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, N.J. Mercury had 0.9 percent of the U.S. market through April, unchanged from 2009.