Last week, a rumour surfaced: Ford was working on a plan kill off Mercury, the automotive legacy of Edsel Ford, Henry’s only child. Mercury would be starved of product and promotion over a four-year period.

Yesterday, Ford made it official. But, instead of fading away, Mercury production will simply end in the fourth quarter of 2010. Ford will take the resources allocated to Mercury and devote them to the almost equally problematical Lincoln.

It’s sad to see another American brand disappear but Mercury’s end was overdue. The days when Mercury was a bigger car with a longer wheelbase, different styling and higher content, are long gone. The line has consisted of Ford clones since the Villager minivan was discontinued and sales dropped 74% from 2000 to 2009.

Mercury has survived because of the Ford family. But, with the heaviest debt load in the industry and a need to keep new product coming, the Fords finally gave the nod.

This leaves the conundrum of Lincoln. In 1998, Lincoln was the first to knock Cadillac off its long-held perch atop the luxury segment. In 2000, it was still third in the rankings. By the end of 2009, Lincoln sales were down 57.1% and the brand is currently in eighth place, behind Audi.

Lincoln is to get seven “new or significantly refreshed” vehicles in the next four years, including its first C-segment compact (read: rebadged Ford Focus). There will be some unique powertrains but otherwise the story is trim, bells, whistles and a “unique retail experience.” But will that be enough to turn the tide?

More than fresh sheet metal and electronics, Lincoln needs a Mark LaNeve, the former GM executive who orchestrated Cadillac’s renaissance. Upscale lines require more than gizmos and spiffy showrooms and I’m not sure that understanding has yet hit home in Dearborn.