As Mustang Gallops Overseas, Muscle Still Matters

If you visit the Monticello Motor Club race track near New Paltz, N.Y., there's a good chance the track is packed with affluent guys with Lambos and exotics roaring around the track. Or somewhat less affluent guys in muscled-up mass market sports cars — Miatas, Mustangs, 'Vettes and the occasional Viper. One of the guys who was there, a reporter, related how, when in Europe for a press event, he dropped by a racetrack near Monaco to test drive some cars. 

At one point an 18-wheeler rolled through the gate and onto the tarmac. A couple of guys in coveralls popped the back of the truck, and there, packed inside, were a pair of pristine, brand new Ferrari Spyders. Not a minute later a Bell helicopter cruised over the hills and settled on the infield. An older man and a couple of young men, father and sons just in from the Middle East, stepped out. 

Yes, in spite of gasoline prices, the focus on hybrids and alternative powertrains, people here and pretty much everywhere, especially everywhere, love muscle cars. And a lot of Americans (if they don't fantasize about it) goose whatever they have and join an autocross club. I mention this because the new Mustang has just come out, as has the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, and as will a performance version of the Hyundai Sonata. And the secret is that these new cars have as much fuel-efficiency as possible partly because of the looming corporate average fuel economy mandate to lock in at 2025. 

Mustang is a volume car in the U.S., competing really only against the other "pony" car, the Chevrolet Camaro, but Ford has bigger plans: the new Mustang will be deliberately and aggressively marketed overseas for the first time. In the past, overseas was a passive market. If someone wanted one they could get one, but Ford didn't have a program because the car was designed for the U.S. audience, not as a global car. It is no longer going to appeal merely to affluent people who have the wherewithal to get one specifically shipped to them. Its design, with its much more European lines, less of a fist-like all-American look, speaks volumes. And the car has, for the first time, a four-cylinder engine, which has raised eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic, where Mustang has always meant a V6 or V8 engine. 

The EcoBoost engine in the Mustang has another purpose: Ford, like all of the automakers, will have to meet the 54.5 corporate average fuel economy mandate by 2025. If Ford wants to keep the Mustang, which it does, it has to have something under the hood to help lower overall fleet numbers. Ford also has to meet Europe and Asia standards.

Could there be, perish the thought, a hybrid-electric Mustang? Well, sure. The Tesla S is pure electric and it's known for its off-the-block performance. And, by the way, Ford won't have to do a lot of marketing overseas. The 2015 car, the 50th anniversary version, is in very hot demand there. 

Indeed, while electrics and hybrids are marketed for fuel efficiency, one only need look at the Tesla S to see how much off-the-block performance an electric can deliver. You can be both mean and green. And Ford wouldn't be alone. 

Nissan is looking at similar technology for the GT-R supercar, as is Acura for its NSX supercar, and even Formula One racers have hybrid technology now. Hyundai is getting in the muscle game, reportedly lining up a 708-horsepower Sonata, which it will show at the specialty equipment market show in Las Vegas this fall.

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