Rumors of Mercury's imminent demise have run rampant for the past year, with even Jerry York, adviser to billionaire stockholder Kirk Kerkorian, urging Ford to sell the brand. A dearth of updates in the pipeline beyond 2011 appeared to indicate it would die a silent death. But new plans from Ford officials have the brand positioned as an entry-level luxury support marque to Lincoln.

The news of the repositioning should quiet the speculation about the brand's demise. The new role of Mercury as the brand's stepping stone between Ford's consumer-level products and Lincoln's upscale luxury offerings give it renewed life from a strategic point of view.

The shuffle also explains the shortage of known products in the pipeline, as the company works out which models will be appropriate for the brand's new focus. The different demographic the Mercury brand draws could also influence the lineup.

"Mercury brings a younger, more female customer than the Ford brand. We're focusing very much on small, fuel-efficient products," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford's global product chief, according to The Detroit News.

Mercury's full-size Sable is therefore likely to face the axe, and hybrid variants of the Milan and Mariner are planned. The move toward smaller vehicles will help Ford's overall desire to shift its product lineup more toward cars as well, giving the brand legs for the future.