Latest pony car goes high-tech, remains 'American'

Ford Mustang repolished for 2015 with global ambitions

Latest pony car goes high-tech, remains 'American'

The new Mustang unveiled in Shanghai today. Overseas sales are forecast to reach about 10,000 a year.

Photo credit: REUTERS
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DETROIT -- Despite Ford’s newfound global aspirations for its iconic pony car, the 2015 Mustang revealed today in six cities on four continents remains a quintessentially American car.

Ford Motor Co. executives unveiled the sixth-generation, 50th-anniversary Mustang simultaneously in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Barcelona, Spain; Sydney, Australia; and Dearborn, Mich.

The Mustang has been a mostly U.S. proposition since it rolled onto the stage at the 1964 World's Fair in New York. But through its history, the Mustang's reputation has spread beyond the United States as a symbol of American design and automotive culture.

Ford aims to capitalize on the Mustang's name recognition and make it a halo car to draw attention to the other vehicles in Ford's lineup, which has become global under CEO Alan Mulally's One Ford plan.

The new car is lower, wider and sleeker than its predecessor, but still has the same broad shoulders and big, bold front end. Those who feared Ford might shrink the Mustang for narrow European roads can rest easy. This horse still has plenty of brawn.

"We find globally that everyone wants that piece of Americana," says Dave Pericak, Mustang chief engineer. "We designed a Mustang and decided to take it global. We did not design a global Mustang."

That means no customer clinics in Europe or China, Pericak says: "Even in America, we don't design a Mustang through research. We know what a Mustang needs to look like."

So it's appropriate the 2015 Mustang will go on sale first in the United States and Canada in the fourth quarter of 2014, followed by China and then Europe sometime in 2015. Ford will sell both fastback and convertible versions. The company has not discussed pricing.

"People all over the world have been waiting for this," Mulally said today in New York. "Without One Ford we couldn't have done it."

What separates this Mustang from its predecessor is the dramatically upgraded interior and the availability of some high-tech features, the kinds of systems Ford has introduced in its bid to transform itself into an industry technology leader.

Those include the latest version of the much-maligned MyFord Touch infotainment system and a new 2.3-liter turbocharged engine, the latest member of Ford's EcoBoost engine family. As a concession to global tastes, the new Mustang will get an independent rear suspension, beefed up brakes and paddle shifters.

In the United States, where the Mustang has trailed the Chevrolet Camaro in sales for several years, volume is forecast to hit nearly 100,000 units in 2015, its first full year on the market, IHS Automotive says.

U.S. deliveries have slipped 8 percent this year to 66,083 units through November, and annual sales haven't topped 100,000 since 2007. Jeff Schuster, an analyst with research firm LMC Automotive, expects the redesign to help Mustang overtake the Camaro in U.S. sales next year. U.S. Camaro sales have dropped 4 percent this year but still top Mustang by 4,093 units through November.

Jeff Schuster , an analyst with researcher LMC Automotive - See more at: http://search.autonews.com/search?q=LMC+Schuster#sthash.o9rVDVis.dpuf
Jeff Schuster , an analyst with researcher LMC Automotive - See more at: http://search.autonews.com/search?q=LMC+Schuster#sthash.o9rVDVis.dpuf

For the 2015 redesign, the signature three bar LED taillights still operate sequentially, but only in the U.S. market.

Photo credit: FORD

A new global customer

Ford expects only about 10 percent of the Mustangs made in Flat Rock, Mich., to be sold overseas. That translates to total sales outside of the core U.S. and Canadian markets of about 10,000 or less, but the company says it isn't looking for the Mustang to rack up Fusion-style volumes.

Outside North America, IHS Automotive estimates the biggest markets for the new Mustang will be Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, the Philippines, Brazil, South Korea, France and the United Kingdom.

Before Ford went global with the Mustang, it needed to know exactly who its customers would be. Ford knew where to find those potential customers. Although the Mustang has been sold mainly in North America through its history, there are 200 Mustang owners clubs on five continents. Some of them are in unlikely places -- Iceland, for example.

Steve Ling, Ford's U.S. car marketing manager, said Ford had to ask some fundamental questions: "Who are these people? What is it they want first and foremost? Actually it's not that different [from what U.S. Mustang buyers want]. They value freedom, and not just in the U.S. It's a lifestyle vehicle. It's not a commuter A to B vehicle."

People still want a "visceral driving experience," he says. "If you had a crappy day at work, and go down to the parking lot and turn the key, it's an instant vacation."

But some wanted more than just thrills.

"The newer customers said they wanted the latest technology," Ling says.

Performance lover's car goes high tech

So Ford is opening the floodgates to a group of new technologies not seen before on a car beloved by many consumers who cared more about performance than gizmos.

The Mustang is one of the few Ford models that haven't been offered with MyFord Touch in the United States. That's about to change and the new car will get the latest version of the system. All Mustangs also will come with push-button start. Ford will offer other systems including Blind Spot Monitoring, Cross Traffic Alert and selectable driving modes operated with toggle switches positioned below the radio. The modes include normal, sport, track and snow and rain.

Though Ford has made weight saving a priority as a means of meeting fuel economy regulations, engineers declined to comment on the 2015 Mustang's weight or fuel economy.

Ford Mustang U.S. sales history
+ Enlarge This Graphic

*Through Nov. 2013
Source: Automotive News and Ford Motor Co.

Space efficiency

Stylingwise, the new Mustang has no carryover sheet metal. The 2015 Mustang is a "lower, wider, more exotic proposition" than the old car, says Joel Piaskowski, Mustang design director. The vehicle is nearly three inches wider in the rear and more than an inch shorter.

"Mustang always had a trapezoidal grille," he says. What's new is "a more technical look" at the front, which Piaskowski and his team believe will help to attract new customers.

The signature three bar LED taillights operate sequentially, but only in the U.S. market. Sequential taillights are not legal in some other countries, Pericak says. The three bar theme is carried forward to the headlight cluster in front in the form of white LED running lights.

But it's behind the wheel where the new car looks most dramatically different. The most striking feature is the aircraft-inspired dashboard, dominated by a molded aluminum facing in the shape of a wing that runs from above the glove box to the instrument bezels.

Ford used soft-touch materials on the door panels and seats. The MyFord Touch display screen is accompanied by two large knobs, one for volume and the other for tuning.

Ford spent a great deal of time thinking about the use of space. Pericak and his team know the Mustang has been known more for its space inefficiency in the past. Map pockets and cubbyholes have been expanded.

"Believe it or not, there is no place to put sunglasses" in the current car, an omission that was remedied on the 2015, Pericak says.

On the new Mustang, Ford has used soft-touch materials on the door panels and seats. The MyFord Touch display screen is accompanied by two large knobs, one for volume and the other for tuning.

Photo credit: FORD

Paddle shifters on the way

Cubbyholes and advanced electronics aside, hard-core Mustang fans still care about what's under the hood. Ford has tried to preserve the best from the current model with one major concession to global tastes. Three engines will be offered, two of them carryovers from the current model: a 5.0-liter V-8 Ford says should crank out 420 hp and a 3.7-liter Ti-VCT V-6 estimated at 300 hp. Horsepower ratings are unofficial.

What's new to the Mustang is a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged, direct-injection EcoBoost gasoline engine, projected to put out 305 hp. This will be the first time Ford has made EcoBoost available in the Mustang. This is the same 2.3-liter four-banger that will be in the Lincoln MKC compact crossover, arriving next year. This features a twin-scroll turbocharger to eliminate turbo lag.

Any one of the three engines can be combined with Ford's six-speed manual from Getrag or a six-speed automatic. What's new to the Mustang will be paddle shifters paired with the automatic.

Turbocharging is just one of the features that separates this Mustang from its forebears.

Another is an independent rear suspension, considered the price of entry for a car that expects to compete against sophisticated Europeans. Production Mustangs historically have had a live, or solid, rear axle, which is great for drag racing but less than ideal for hugging corners on twisty roads and racetracks.

Once engineers decided on an integral-link independent rear suspension with coil springs, they realized the existing front suspension would limit performance. So Ford redesigned the front suspension with a double-ball joint, MacPherson strut setup with a tubular stabilizer bar.

Ford looked at cars such as the Porsche 911, also celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the BMW M3 for some of its inspiration.

The new car also has bigger brakes, an improved electronic power assisted steering system and a higher estimated top speed: 155 mph compared with 145 mph on the current GT model.

The 2015 Mustang sat draped in Dearborn, Mich., earlier today as media and Ford employees waited for its unveiling.

Photo credit: TOM WOROBEC

The Mustang will "make a novice driver feel like a hero" and will equally reward the expert, Pericak says.

Despite the new suspension, it still drives like a Mustang, he says.

"You're going to say it's a Mustang even if you're blindfolded."

The new Mustang will make its public debut at the 2014 Detroit auto show in January.

Ford believes the majority of Mustang sales will still come from the United States and Canada, but Ford hopes the presence of the car in overseas showrooms will attract people to look at the brand's other offerings.

"This is an emotional connection to Ford for a lot of people," says Ling: "If you can get somebody emotionally connected, maybe they will buy other Fords."

Jim Henry and David Phillips contributed to this report.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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