New Mustang: Hipster-Hippie Hybrid?

by , Apr 17, 2012, 7:52 AM
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Ford announced that it would be overhauling the Ford Mustang for its 50th anniversary quite a while ago but a story by the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Ramsey yesterday has the auto-punditocracy asking larger questions about what it all means, particularly to the Boomers who, it seems, revel in anything that reminds them that they once were young. (How else to explain a recent Newsweek commemorative issue on The Beatles that bring backs memories of Tiger Beat?)

“For the last decade, auto makers have connected with Baby Boomers by recreating storied cars from their youth like the VW Beetle, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger,” writes Ramsey. “Now, Ford Motor Co. is betting it is time to hit the brakes on the retro trend, and shift its focus to a younger generation.”

It seems that Gen Y –- about 20 million people born between 1980 and 1999 –- is entering its peak car-buying period and is too lucrative a market to zoom by in the rear-view-mirror lane.

“You cannot sustain sales without looking for new buyers,” Strategic Vision analyst Alexander Edwards tells Ramsey. True, you are going to lose sales, but you need to refresh the population of buyers.” 

But, “Will A Restyled Ford Mustang Alienate Boomers?” asks the hed over Chris Woodyard’s story in USA Today

“Remember, Ford played with fire before when it came to switching up the look of Mustang,” he writes. “In the 1970s, it created a disaster called the Mustang II after years of heart-pounding pony cars. Fans considered the Mustang II a weakling unworthy of the brand's name.”

TheDetroitBureau.com’s Paul A. Eisenstein asks if retro has “finally” sputtered out.  

“Much like Hollywood studios, automakers like to bet on sure things, and showrooms have plenty of examples of how everything old can become new again, like the latest reincarnation of the Volkswagen Beetle, and the revival of the Chevrolet Camaro,” he says. “But Ford, which scored a huge hit with the old-is-new ’94 Mustang remake, and which subsequently created a studio specifically to develop more retro design opportunities, is apparently ready to step into the future.” 

The future includes marketing the vehicle outside of North America and offering “array of advanced high-mileage engines,” Eisenstein reports.

When Ford’s design honcho, J Mays, told Automotive News about the plans for an overhaul of the Mustang last fall, Motor Authority’s Nelson Ireson recalled that it was not the fist time he’d spilled the beans. “At the 2010 Paris Auto Show, Mays said the next Mustang would not ‘lose the Mustang DNA’’ but would ‘signal that the Mustang has another 50 years of life left.’”

There’s an argument to be made that it has been doing that for some time so it will be intriguing to see exactly how a 50 year old will get away with looking like a younger version of itself without looking foolish in the process, sort of like a hippie-hipster hybrid. The 2013 Mustang has been updated for the third time in four years, Cars.com’s Kelsey Mays reports in the Chicago Tribune and it “is as raucous as ever, with a gutsy V-6 and a V-8 that pulls like hell.”

Mays, who betrays himself as a post-Boomer when he writes that the Mustang “fit my high school zeitgeist like Friday-night football, Nintendo and Green Day,” writes:

“I'm not sold on all the visual updates, and the interior needs work; so does the coupe's crashworthiness. But the Mustang still combines scrappy fun with everyday livability, and it should draw buyers even as competition heats up not just from Chevy's Camaro, but also from Hyundai and Dodge.”

Meanwhile, a review of Bryce G. Hoffman’s American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by the Financial Times’ John Reed published in the Los Angeles Times Sunday, echoes the very favorable reviews the book has been getting since its release last month.

Mulally grew up on a Kansas farm, uses words like "neat" and "cool," Hoffman reports. But as an outsider recruited by Bill Ford from Boeing in 2006, he has not been afraid to shake things up in a culture that way too comfortable cruising on the fumes of past glories. 

“Mulally is a constantly chipper, boosterish presence, whether bucking up dispirited colleagues, preparing for a presentation in Congress or hugging a dumbfounded customer at a dealership in Shanghai,” Reed observes. “‘Mulally ripped off the bandage, cauterized the wound and cured the disease,’ the author concludes, with his typical gusto. Only an outsider could do that.’”

It will be interesting to see what an outsider can do with the runaway success that the Mustang has been over the years. 

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