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Published: Sunday, 11/24/2013 - Updated: 12 months ago

No horsing around for Ford as it readies Mustang’s debut

Car marks its 50th anniversary with sixth-generation model

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The Mustang has remained a successful sporty car over the decades. The Mustang has remained a successful sporty car over the decades.
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Being fairly close to Ford Motor Co.’s assembly plant in Flat Rock, Mich., Brondes Ford does a decent amount of business with the company’s employees who work there.

Ford has built its Mustang in Flat Rock since 2004, and earlier this year started making Fusions on the same line. The automaker has about 3,100 people at the plant, which is 35 miles north of Toledo.

But when it comes to the next-generation Mustang they’ll build, nobody’s seen nothin’. Or if they have, they aren’t talking, said Rob Whitner, general manager at the Secor Road dealership.

“Have you seen one? ‘Nope.’ You haven’t seen a picture? ‘Nope,’” Mr. Whitner said. “It’s been a really tight-security unveiling, even with these guys that work up in the plant.”

For its part, the company says it is shrouding the new pony car with no more secrecy than it would with any new product.

Whether that’s true or not, Ford is going big with the way it plans to unveil the 2015 Mustang.

On Dec. 5 — a little more than a week from now — Ford simultaneously will introduce the car in Dearborn, Mich., New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Shanghai, and Sydney.

Six cities. Four continents. A worldwide stage for an all-American car.

First shown at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, the Mustang was a sensation from the start. Ford sold 22,000 Mustangs that first weekend alone and more than 400,000 in the first year.

While the company will likely never again see volumes that high from the Mustang, the car has remained a successful, sporty car for the last half-century.

And analysts say Ford has a lot riding on the sixth-generation version.

“The Mustang is part of Ford’s personality and DNA, and getting it right is critically important for its image,” said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst with IHS Automotive.

Ford hasn’t always gotten it right. The Mustangs of 1971 through 1973, for example, were underpowered and oversized. Lagging sales in the 1980s had Ford toying with the idea of making the Mustang front-wheel drive.

Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant employees cheer as the millionth Ford Mustang is driven off the assembly line in Flat Rock, Mich., in April. The 2015 Mustang is to be unveiled simultaneously in six cities on four continents on Dec. 5. Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant employees cheer as the millionth Ford Mustang is driven off the assembly line in Flat Rock, Mich., in April. The 2015 Mustang is to be unveiled simultaneously in six cities on four continents on Dec. 5.
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Mercifully, the company changed its mind.

“It’s had its bad years over its history, and they don’t want to repeat that again,” Ms. Brinley said.

So loyal Mustang fans, don’t worry. Ford isn’t going to pull the rug from beneath you. The Mustang will remain rear-wheel drive and will still have a beefy V-8 option.

“It’ll still be a Mustang. For everybody who wants a Mustang, it’ll still be a Mustang,” Ms. Brinley said. “They aren’t going to change its personality.”

However, it figures to be a slightly smaller and lighter Mustang. Ford is also expected to offer a turbocharged four-cylinder engine option at some point to go along with the V-6 and V-8 variants.

As for what it is going to look like, take your pick of one of the hundreds of artists’ renderings or spy photos floating around the Internet.

“It’s great to see the amount of online chatter and speculation. It’s great to see that,” said Alan Hall, who is the global communications manager for the Mustang. “We love our customers, and we love our fans, and it’s great they're excited about it.”

So far, nothing official has leaked. The car is likely to take some styling cues from Ford’s 2011 Evos concept, combined with some of the retro-inspired lines of the current Mustang.

Unlike in its early days — including those of the now-maligned Mustang II — the Mustang is not a large volume seller. Ford sold 70,438 Mustangs in 2011 and 82,995 in 2012.

This year’s sales numbers look to fall somewhere in between those numbers. Ford reported sales of 66,083 Mustangs in the through October, down about 8 percent from the first 10 months of 2012.

Sales of the Mustang are slightly behind that of the Chevrolet Camaro, one of its top competitors. Ford remains ahead of the Dodge Challenger by a wide margin, though at 43,119 through October, Challenger sales are up 26 percent this year.

At Brondes, they might sell 50 to 60 Mustangs a year, Mr. Whitner said.

That’s not insignificant, but it’s not enough to make it one of the dealership's top selling cars. Mr. Whitner said there’s not a huge profit margin on the Mustang — no more than your average Taurus.

Still, the Mustang means a lot to Ford and its dealers.

“It’s extremely important,” Mr. Whitner said. “It’s certainly an icon of the brand.”

Mr. Whitner said he was excited to see what Ford has done with the new car, but no date has been announced for the arrival of the 2015 models in local showrooms.

The vehicle is expected to be exhibited in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

The Mustang has a following that’s difficult to rival. Go to any cruise-in or car show and you’re likely to see more than a few Mustangs.

Robots weld the frames of Ford Mustangs at the company’s facility in Flat Rock, Mich. The plant builds another popular car for Ford, the Fusion. Robots weld the frames of Ford Mustangs at the company’s facility in Flat Rock, Mich. The plant builds another popular car for Ford, the Fusion.
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Part of it is that the sheer number of automobiles that were produced ensures there are plenty that survive.

The Mustang Club of America has more than 170 chapters, including groups in Canada, Italy, and Venezuela.

“I think it’s the last of the muscle cars, and they have just really true followers," said Rose Jankowski, who works in sales at Brondes and organized the annual all-Mustang car show dealership hosts with the Toledo Mustangs Car Club.

The most recent show brought in more than 250 Mustangs of all years.

One of Ford’s goals for the new Mustang is growing the auto’s presence outside of North America.

Ford does export the Mustang but does not do so in large quantities.

A Ford spokesman said the company plans to expand that with the 2015 model, adding Europe and markets in the Asia Pacific region.

“The fact is this new Mustang will be sold around the world,” Ford’s Mr. Hall said.

Currently the Flat Rock plant is the only facility that builds the Mustang.

Mr. Hall declined to discuss future production plans, though analysts said they don’t believe Ford is looking to add Mustang production elsewhere.

Analysts expect the Mustang to be a niche market car overseas as it is here, and the line in Flat Rock has the flexibility to adjust production of its two models to meet demand.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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