Ford Motor Co. engineers and designers working on the next generation of the Ford Mustang face a tough quandary of how to update the original pony car for the 21st century. According to the Wall Street Journal, the new Mustang may look much like this: the Evos concept shown last year in Europe. It's a radical change, but any new Mustang will need more global appeal than ever to survive.
While the current generation of the Mustang remains a strong performer on the street and the sales results, it's showing its age. Its underpinnings date to the Lincoln LS sedan unveiled in 1999; its solid-rear axle increasingly seems quaint compared to the Chevy Camaro, and the retro styling trend that it spurred at the beginning of the decade has passed.
Ford Fusion in the United States will become the Ford Mondeo in Europe with only a few tweaks; the Fiesta and Focus are already global travelers, and even Ford's SUV lineup will turn international with the new Escape. There are exceptions, such as the F-Series that dominates American roads and the Ranger pickup sold outside the United States, but the Mustang is the only rear-wheel-drive coupe left in Ford's stable worldwide. And unlike the Camaro, Ford doesn't have a base of demand for the Mustang in China, nor exports to Europe, to bolster sales.
Ford executives know better than to make the mistake of trying to turn the Mustang into a front-wheel-drive sports car, as their predecessors once attempted with the model that eventually became the misbegotten Ford Probe. Instead, the next generation of Mustang will need to have an international touch to merit the hundreds of millions of dollars Ford will need to spend designing and building it -- which means walking back some of the pony-car styling that's resonated with Americans for 47 years.
Ford spokespeople decline to talk about new products, and no one at the company has officially said the Evos previews what the new Mustang will look like. But the Evos was heralded as the new corporate face for Ford worldwide, with its Aston Martin-derived cues already showing up on other models. More tellingly, it's about the right size -- shorter by 10 inches than the current Mustang, but with a wheelbase shrunk only an inch. And the rear fenders have a hint of the vent and kick-up from the original Mustang, which also came as a fastback body style.
Making the Mustang an international player would require Ford to build a smaller, lighter car that could get better fuel economy without compromising performance. Ford's already expected to put a four-cylinder Ecoboost turbo engine in the Mustang before any new model arrives in 2014 or so; combining that with a traditional V8 option would cover the bases. All of which will mean little if the changes result in a Mustang that American fans reject as too foreign, and foreign customers pass over as too American. If the auto business were easy, there'd be a lot more people building cars.