For example, the Mercury Montego will feature high-intensity discharge headlamps and light-emitting diode taillamps. And some Mercury models will come with seats that can be heated or cooled, while only heated seats will be offered in the matching Ford models. Product planners also could use more robust or refined powertrains to set the Mercury models apart.
Design cues will include the familiar waterfall grille plus satin-finish aluminum trim, which is more modern-looking than chrome, Mays said. And some Mercury nameplates will get new sheet metal on the front quarter of the vehicle.
The Mercurys that debut in a year or two will have more styling differences than those arriving now, executives said. The Monterey minivan, for instance, looks much like the Ford Freestar.
Executives say the new cars should attract people in their 40s, not unlike the buyers of the current Mercury Mountaineer. In contrast, the average Grand Marquis buyer is 68 years old and often is a repeat buyer.
Many target buyers will be new to the Mercury showroom and may own a Toyota or Honda.
"I don't want them to look at a Mercury and think, gee, that's for an older audience," Mays said. "In order to bring the brand up, you need to bring the age group that's buying the vehicles down."
The Mercury price range is $20,000 to $40,000. Company executives won't say what kind of a premium they expect to get for Mercury. But the just-released Monterey may suggest where that spread is heading.
Monterey's volume models are priced at $34,000 to $36,000, while the volume models in the Freestar line range from about $27,000 to more than $30,000.
Company executives admit that Mercury has become a hodgepodge.
"What Mercury was was a collection of vehicles that we stuffed together and called Mercury," said Elena Ford, Ford Motor's director of North America product marketing.
That cobbled-together lineup eroded the brand image. Mercury sales plunged to 202,257 units last year, down from 438,000 in 1999.
The Villager minivan and Cougar coupe were dropped in 2002, and the brand had only three vehicles - the Grand Marquis, Sable and Mountaineer - to sell until the Monterey joined the lineup last fall. Mercury counts its Marauder as part of the Grand Marquis family.
Some industry pundits predicted Mercury would go the way of defunct brands such as Plymouth and Oldsmobile. But that would have left Lincoln Mercury dealers in the lurch, executives said. The dealers rely on Mercury volume to stay in business.
So work on the new lineup began. With the new vehicles, Mercury wants to increase annual sales by at least 50 percent during the next few years, said Darryl Hazel, president of Lincoln Mercury.