The 2010 model is nice, but we want to know where the Mustang is really headed.
03-18-08: All the news today is about the refreshed 2010 Mustang that will hit the streets early next year. The car while fresh and full of new features, only serves as a makeover for the current Mustang, the majority of its underlying architecture remaining the same. Save for some new engines, the 2010 Mustang is to the 2005-2009 Mustang as the redesigned 1999 Mustang was to the 1994-1998 models - a visual remodel at best.
This is not to underplay the heavy investment that Ford has placed in the 2010 Mustang. But the real story is where the true “next-generation” Mustang is headed. The 800 pound gorilla in the room for the program managers who are tasked with designing the next all-new pony car is the crippling government CAFÉ standards that will begin to take effect in 2011. Starting soon will be a new escalating MPG squeeze that will affect everything Ford builds, and hugely affect the future of the Mustang. Big changes are going to be needed to the long loved Mustang to keep it alive in a muscle-car hostile world.
The challenge for Ford in coming up with the 2014 Mustang is similar to the one that faced them in the early 1970’s. The current Mustang is a large car, a heavy car, and a very inefficient one. Buyers have begun a shift toward less expensive and more fuel efficient cars. The romance for horsepower has been stamped out by economic realities. People like power, but when gas costs $3.50 a gallon people tend to turn practical.
To meet the new government regulations in the next decades as well as be attractive to buyers, the next Mustang will have to be lighter, have higher technology under the hood, and a modern chassis. The very core of what the Mustang is to car buyers will need to be examined as we head once again for an era that will be unfriendly to muscle cars. The very soul of the Mustang will need to evolve and adapt to survive.
So are we looking at another Mustang II? God we hope not. That car was a miserable excuse for the muscle, style and heritage that came before it. What most people overlook about the Mustang II however is what a major sales success it was. The Mustang II sold at about twice the annual rate that the current Mustang sells today!
While most enthusiasts gave the car a solid thumbs down, people seeking affordable transportation in a sporty package ate it up. Those times were not much different than now. In the early seventies we had our first gas crunch in which prices at the pump skyrocketed. We also had the first evils of government smog and efficiency mandates clamping down on Detroit. History repeats itself.
One major bonus for gearheads today is that now Detroit knows how to build cars in a way that leaves the seventies to shame. Ford also has a plethora of technology in their parts bins in which to produce the next best thing. They have Mazda, Volvo and Ford of Europe in which to collaborate on the next great downsizing where they were all alone in 1970.
What might power muscle Mustangs of the future? Hybrids? Unlikely. Ford has already shown their hand with the new Eco-Boost technology that utilizes turbochargers on smaller engines with direct injection. It appears that this will be their core strategy. The new crop of turbo DI 4,6 and 8 cylinder engines are able to produce more horsepower with less displacement, less fuel, and hopefully less weight. This is a plus, plus, plus for true driving enthusiasts. While the 2008 Shelby GT-500 wows people with 500 horsepower, it disappoints with a near 3900 lb curb weight and Bass-Boat handling. In this century, we can do a lot better.
One thing is also for certain. Mustang will not be able to soldier on with it’s own specific platform as it does today. The S-197 Mustang shares it’s bits with nothing else in the Ford world. There is a new rear-wheel drive architecture in Australia that is used in the Falcon long rumored to be a part of the next Mustang as well as other Ford sedans to come. Whether the new CAFÉ regulations that were dropped on us last year has affected this plan is still unknown.
But, we do know that Mustang will have to share a platform with other models next time around to be financially viable. Camaro and Challenger are coming to the showroom floors in addition to new cars from Hyundai and other Asian rivals. Add in higher gas prices to the mix and it’s likely that Mustang will continue to see lower production in the coming decade. It is even possible that sales could dip below 100,000 unit’s a year. Mustang’s architecture and engineering must be spread across other models to pencil out.
This could be good news on one hand. If Ford braves the current and rolls out an all new rear-wheel drive platform it means that we will also see perhaps a new 4-door sedan to replace the Crown Vic - something on the lines of the Interceptor concept car of last year. We should be so lucky. There has also been talk of a Lincoln based derivative coupe. But alas, this is all talk before the government meanies came to the party.
Another smart option would be to combine the Mustang and the Mazda RX-8 architectures. The current Mazda RX-8 is about 3000 lbs and has a 106 inch wheelbase. That is just slightly smaller than the current Mustang and a lot lighter. The cars are close enough in the outer envelope to be a possible match up for platforms. Mustang could surely benefit from some Mazda engineered chassis hardware including the lightweight world class independent rear suspension.
Of course we are not suggesting that Ford put a Mazda rotary engine in the Mustang. No, No, No! Hell Mazda needs to get wise and let go of that thirsty oil vacuum known as the Wankel engine. We are simply suggesting that merging the platform underpinnings of the two cars could really bring the Mustang to new heights in technology, handling prowess, and lightweight efficiency. But what do we know?
As the 2010 Mustang grabs up the spotlight, we will be looking forward to 2014 where the next big unknown chapter of the Mustang is forming.