Ford Motor Co. (F:US), taking its 50-year old Mustang global for the first time, today unveiled a revamped muscle car boasting a sleeker look and optional smaller engine that will target the widest set of buyers ever.
Featuring a lowered roof height and widened track, the sixth-generation Mustang will be available late next year. The car’s first four-cylinder engine since 1986 will outperform the new and outgoing base model with power and fuel economy, the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker said in a statement.
Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally is selling Mustangs outside North America for the first time since its 1964 debut as it takes on General Motors Co. (GM:US)’s more futuristic Chevrolet Camaro that’s drawing more U.S. buyers. Ford, the No. 2 U.S. automaker, is betting the slimmed-down and more efficient rendition of its car will give it a lift abroad.
“The Mustang has universal appeal,” Mark Fields, Ford’s chief operating officer, said on Bloomberg Television. “It ignites that sense of freedom and optimism and it’s very consistent. It transcends genders, it transcends demographics and nations.”
The Mustang’s available 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine will generate more than 305 horsepower, the output of the current base model, while the updated standard V-6 powertrain will achieve output of at least 300, Ford said in the statement.
Engineers also upgraded Ford’s high-end powered 5.0-liter V8 to improve on its 420 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. The company plans to release pricing, final engine specifications and fuel economy data closer to when the car goes on sale.
“This is one product that I’ve been following every step of the way,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford, great-grandson of founder Henry Ford, said in a video posted by the company. “This, to me, is the most important product we have. I feel like an expectant parent. This is our baby that we’re unveiling.”
Ford kept in place longtime Mustang design elements including its long sculpted hood and short rear deck as well as three-bar tail lights that light up sequentially when signaling turns. While the company retained what it calls Mustang’s “shark-bite” front fascia, it added a trapezoidal grille used across its lineup on cars including the Focus compact and Fusion sedan.
“My very first car was a Mustang,” Bill Ford said at the car’s unveiling in Barcelona. As soon as he saw the latest Mustang, “I put my order in for No. 1.”
A stiffer, lighter suspension system will improve handling, steering and ride and new struts make room for bigger and more powerful brakes, Ford said.
U.S. sales of Mustangs dropped 7.7 percent to 71,459 in the year through November while GM’s Camaro slipped 3.8 percent to 75,552, according to research Autodata Corp.
GM succeeded in drawing younger buyers with the redesigned version of the Camaro in 2009. Ahead of the model’s debut, the Detroit-based automaker won a cameo for the car in the 2007 film “Transformers,” about alien robots that change into machines, and the Camaro featured prominently in the two subsequent movies that followed, helping raise its profile.
In the films, the car was featured as the character Bumblebee, the ride of lead actor Shia LaBeouf. The 2007, 2009 and 2011 movies grossed a combined $2.67 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, a researcher.
“The Camaro did a very good job of not being just another retro car,” said Beau Boeckmann, who sits on the Ford dealer product-advisory committee that saw the Mustang through its development process. “Camaro hadn’t been around for a few years. They could do something that was bold and got people’s attention,” he said in a telephone interview.
The Mustang buyer skews older than GM’s Camaro or Chrysler Group LLC (CGC:US)’s Dodge Challenger, with 38 percent of sales going to customers who are at least 55, said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst for Edmunds.com. That’s up 12 percentage points from five years ago, according to the Santa Monica, California-based website.
The Mustang has long been a “halo car” that has helped Ford woo buyers to its broader lineup. The version that is being retired, with a blunt-nosed and slab-sided design, was introduced in 2004. Evoking the models of the 1960s, it juiced interest in the carmaker for almost a decade and presaged a Detroit design revival.
More recently, the model has lost ground within Ford’s own lineup, with the Fiesta small car making a run at knocking it from among the automaker’s three best-selling passenger cars.
The Mustang scored its best sales figures in the 1960s, when Ford built more than 600,000 in a year and the model appeared in the 1968 movie “Bullitt,” with Steve McQueen.
“It changed the world,” Mulally said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” today. “It was the first time that everybody could get access to a really neat sports car that was useful, and it was affordable.”
Ford’s second-generation model added weight from new safety and emissions equipment even as its dimensions shrank and performance was diluted by weaker engines, and its sales dipped. The fifth generation that exits next year was developed under Hau Thai-Tang, who now heads purchasing at Ford, and initially was credited with recapturing the Mustang’s mojo.
Ford hosted events today in Barcelona, Shanghai and Sydney, as well as in New York, Los Angeles and Dearborn.
Ford’s stock rose 0.7 percent to $16.74 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 29 percent this year, outpacing the 25 percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
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