“If you look at the Camaro and how successful it has been in sales, it's time to take it up a notch for Ford,” said Dave Sullivan, analyst for Tustin, Calif.-based research firm AutoPacific Inc.
That includes adding features such as independent rear suspension, which Camaro has, updating the design for a younger crowd and offering more creature comforts and technology. The Mustang arrives in dealerships next fall, and IHS Automotive predicts it will overtake the Camaro in sales in 2015. The forecast calls for modest sales in countries outside North America, with Germany being the largest new market.
Heart and soul of a brand: Ford has sold about 9 million Mustangs since a teacher named Gail Wise of Park Ridge, Ill., bought the first car sold at retail—a baby blue convertible from Johnson Ford in Cicero, Ill., in the spring of 1964. The Mustang has been produced continuously since then while some rivals, such as the Camaro, have come and gone and come again. The only other Ford that can make that longevity claim is the F-150 pickup.
“Mustang cuts to the heart and soul of Ford Motor Co.,” said Mark Fields, Ford COO, speaking to a crowd of several hundred people at Mustang unveiling festivities in Detroit last week. “It represents our company at its best.”
Fun: While most of Ford's product lineup still has roots in functional transportation—sold at prices most people can afford—the Mustang stands out as less utilitarian.
“The Mustang is not a commuter A to B vehicle,” said Steve Ling, Ford's U.S. car marketing manager. “People still want a visceral driving experience. If you had a crappy day at work, and go down to the parking lot and turn the key, it's an instant vacation.”
Global halo car factor: Ford sees the Mustang as an image-maker for an American car company with global aspirations.
Said Mr. Ling: “This is an emotional connection to Ford for a lot of people. If you can get somebody emotionally connected, maybe they will buy other Fords.”
AutoPacific's Mr. Sullivan said Ford is globalizing most of the rest of its lineup to achieve economies of scale. Mustang is no exception.
“When you spend money to develop these vehicles, you've got to get the most volume out of everything you design,” he said. “The only way you can get the scale you need is to try and sell as many as you can globally.”
Attracting young buyers: The average age of the Mustang owner is 52, compared with 49 for the Camaro, according to Strategic Vision. The original Mustang was aimed squarely at the youth market. But that has changed along the way. The current Mustang has a heavy dose of retro, from its solid beam rear axle to the hockey stick imprint in the body sides.