By Dee-Ann Durbin
DEARBORN, MICH.: America’s first pony car — the Ford Mustang — is celebrating its 50th birthday with a swoon-worthy new design and plans to go global.
Ford revealed the 2015 model of the Mustang Thursday at events in New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Sydney, Barcelona and its hometown of Dearborn. It goes on sale next fall in North America and will reach Europe and Asia in 2015.
“Mustang cuts to the heart and soul of our company and really represents our company at its best,” Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields told hundreds of dealers and employees gathered in Dearborn to see the car.
The Mustang isn’t anywhere near Ford’s best-seller. Ford sells more pickups in a week than it does Mustangs in a month. But Ford says the Mustang has the highest name recognition and highest favorable opinion of any of its cars. And car companies count on beautiful sports cars to cast a glow over the rest of their lineup.
The Mustang’s first full redesign since 2005 presented Ford with a tough task: Update and freshen an icon without alienating its passionate fans. More than 9 million Mustangs have been sold since 1964, and the car has more than 300 fan clubs around the world, including one in Iceland and one solely for owners of yellow Mustangs. Farrah Fawcett drove a white one in Charlie’s Angels; Steve McQueen raced a dark green one through the streets of San Francisco in 1968’s Bullitt.
The new car takes plenty of cues from the old. The long hood and sloping fastback are still there, as is the trapezoid-shaped grille with the Mustang logo from the original. But the new car sits lower and wider, and the roof tapers dramatically in the front and back. The signature rounded headlights are smaller and sit back under a fierce, chiseled brow, while the traditional three-bar taillights are now three-dimensional and tucked beneath the rear deck lid.
This new generation of Mustang has been engineered to meet various international safety and emissions standards. A right-hand-drive version will be sold in the United Kingdom and Australia, and Ford will market the car more heavily overseas.
Ford design chief J Mays said that while international needs were taken into account, the design wasn’t influenced by European or Asian sensibilities.
“The reason they love it is because of its American-ness,” he said.
Still, Stephanie Brinley, an auto analyst with consulting company IHS, expects modest sales overseas. IHS forecasts European Mustang sales will triple from current levels to around 2,500 in 2015, while sales in China will likely remain low because two-door coupes aren’t popular there.
Coupes make up less than 1 percent of sales annually across the globe, Brinley said. But they’re still an important car for automakers to have.
“It’s an aspirational body style. It signals a sporty drive and a sexier product,” she said.
Ford hopes Mustang can become the top-selling pony car in the U.S. The Chevrolet Camaro, which followed the Mustang to market in 1966 and was last redesigned in 2009, has outsold its rival for the last three years and is on track to do it again this year, according to Kelley Blue Book.
Aaron Bragman, the Detroit bureau chief for the website cars.com, likes the new Mustang but questions whether it can beat the Camaro, which has a less retro-inspired design.
“Anyone looking for something a bit more modern is going to choose the Camaro,” he said.
Mustang buyers will have three engines to choose from: updated versions of the current 3.7-liter V6, which gets a projected 300 horsepower, and 5.0-liter V8, with 420 horsepower, as well as a new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that gets a projected 305 horsepower. Ford will also offer updated six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.
Ford isn’t saying how much the new Mustang will cost. The current one starts around $23,000. A convertible will also be available.