If a car stalls in the forest, does it make a sound? Ford's (NYSE: F) about to find out, as it releases the emergency brake, shifts into neutral, and sends Mercury rolling quietly into the night.

Mercy for Mercury
Ford revealed yesterday that it will ask its board to approve the mercy killing of Mercury, a brand so forgotten that, according to an analyst quoted in Business Week: "Many Americans probably already think it has been discontinued." If approved, the plan would halve the number of Mercury models for sale next year. Within four years, all sales would cease.

The move marks an ignominious end for a once-luxurious brand. Conceived by Edsel Ford seven decades ago, Mercury ultimately eroded into an "overpriced twin" to its brother brand, Ford. If you were in the market for an Escort, for a few thousand dollars more could have bought you a Mercury Tracer. If you liked the Ford Escape, you'd love the Mercury Mariner, and similarly with the Taurus/Sable equation ...

Problem was, few customers did love Mercury. And those who did had one foot in the, lets say, aftermarket already. One Mercury model has the unhappy distinction of being the car with the single oldest customer demographic in America. The average Grand Marquis owner's age: 70.

It's hammer time
If I can be even more blunt: It's about time Ford put Mercury out of its misery. Listen, I loved my old Tracer -- but I loved it because it was really a high-quality Escort, which I could buy cheap because no one else valued Mercury's brand. And this, in a nutshell, has been Detroit's problem for years: Too many brands, too little love for 'em.

Ford is following a successful model employed by its Japanese competitors. Toyota (NYSE: TM), Honda (NYSE: HMC), and Nissan all pair their higher-volume namesake brands with a single upscale luxury offering, whether it be Lexus, Acura, or Infiniti, respectively. Now Ford can focus on turning Lincoln into a premiere player in the luxury segment.

Reacting faster than never quick-off-the-brake GM, Ford began trimming brands while its domestic rival was still fumbling for reverse. Ford unloaded Jaguar on Tata (NYSE: TTM) and dumped Volvo on Geely, and focused on making its core brand lean and mean. The effort's paying off, but now is no time to tap the brakes.

If it wants to navigate the new automotive order, Ford must push the eject button on Mercury.

Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, but Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.