The Ford Crown Victoria rear-wheel-drive, fullsize sedan will disappear from showrooms after the ’08 model year, Ford Motor Co. insiders tell Ward’s.

After ’08, the Crown Vic will be sold as a fleet car only, meaning it still will be available to police departments and taxi operators.

The Crown Vic’s Mercury Grand Marquis sibling is expected to remain in the retail lineup, and both will continue to be built at Ford’s St. Thomas, ON, Canada, plant, where the Lincoln Town Car also will be joining the mix beginning in January.

Sales of the Crown Vic totaled 46,188 units in the U.S. during the first nine months of 2007, off 9.1% from 50,792 in the same period of 2006. Grand Marquis deliveries, made almost entirely to the public, fell 17.2% to 38,280 units. Only 3,000 Crown Vics were sold at retail in 2006.

Once the favorite police patrol car, the Crown Vic now is being challenged for police and taxi business by the Chevrolet Impala and Dodge Charger sedans, the latter attractive because of its 340-hp Hemi engine.

New York City’s taxi fleet is being transformed by 2012 to all hybrid-electric powertrain vehicles, for which Ford is pushing its Escape Hybrid as a replacement for the Big Apple’s 2,500 Crown Vics.

Since 2000, Crown Vic retail sales have fallen nearly 90%, a drop Ford attributes to its unchanged “classic” styling and the high fuel consumption of its 224-hp engine.

The future of the Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis and Town Car in their current configurations is in doubt beyond three more years. In announcing plant closings as part of its restructuring plan revealed in January 2006, Ford told the Canadian Auto Workers union only that it planned to keep the cars in production at St. Thomas at least through 2010.