While Lincoln is expanding its line to as many as eight models in the next six years, Mercury's line is expected to be about half that size.
The core products will be the full-sized Grand Marquis sedan, the Mountaineer sport-utility, a new minivan that will replace the Villager, and, until the end of its cycle in a few years, the mid-sized Sable.
The 2003 Marauder, a high-performance sedan based on the Grand Marquis, goes on sale in summer 2002 and the replacement for the Villager will not arrive until the 2003 model year at the earliest.
The Cougar sport coupe likely will be dropped from the lineup in about two years, said a company source who asked not to be identified.
'My vision is to have four or five strong Mercury products and not try to cover everything like we used to,' said Lincoln Mercury President Mark Hutchins, who was interviewed at the Chicago Auto Show this month. 'That's why Mystique's gone away. I think we diluted our resources. We were unable to focus.'
Mercury sales fell to 359,143 vehicles last year from 438,000 a year earlier.
Hutchins said parent Ford Motor Co. has made a solid commitment to the Mercury brand.
'For the first time ever, we have a vehicle line product director who is dedicated to Mercury and Mercury only, and the future of Mercury products,' he said.
Benjamin Gibert, 38, who was named vehicle/ brand director for Mercury vehicles last December, is responsible for Mercury product development and manufacturing strategy. He previously was assistant vehicle line director for Lincoln trucks.
Interviewed at the Chicago show, Gibert said future Mercury products 'will be derivatives for the most part, but they will be distinctive.'
Hutchins said he is tired of hearing people compare Mercury to Plymouth and Oldsmobile, two brands that are being discontinued. What these critics don't realize, said Hutchins, is that 'Mercury is very profitable to us and our dealers.'
Sable's fate unknown
But while the Grand Marquis remains in Mercury's long-term product portfolio, the replacement for Sable needs to be determined. The Grand Marquis tallied 122,572 sales in 2000, while 103,030 Sables were sold.
Sable 'is programmed out for several years,' said a company source who asked not to be identified. 'We have freshenings planned.
'Typically, in cycle planning, the life of a platform is 10 years, so we're going to have a good run with Sable. But what happens after that is the subject of some discussion because, do you continue with the same size car or go to a slightly smaller car?'
The current-generation Sable bowed for the 1996 model year.
Said Hutchins when asked about the future of Sable beyond the current product cycle: 'I don't know. Over time, we probably would go in a different direction.'