Ford launches new global Mustang to buoy brand, boost margins
DETROIT, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Nearly 50 years after launching its affordable sports car, Ford Motor Co is unveiling a global redesign of the Mustang to try to burnish the U.S. automaker's image and spur sales of its more expensive models.
Top Ford executives, including Chief Executive Alan Mulally, will fan out across six cities to take the wraps off the 2015 Mustang on Thursday. The car will be shown in Dearborn, Michigan, Shanghai, Sydney, Barcelona, New York and Los Angeles.
This will be the first Mustang sold in Europe and Asia. The second-largest U.S. automaker expects most sales to come from North America, but the car's mystique should prompt new consumers to visit Ford showrooms in other markets.
A new influx of buyers could help Ford increase sales of its other high-performance models, such as the Focus ST, boosting profit margins and the Ford brand image, analysts said.
"We kept seeing them show up even though we don't sell them in China, Australia and other places," Joe Hinrichs, Ford's head of North and South America, said of the Mustang on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show last month.
"People (are) figuring out a way to get it into the country, even though it's not sold there, which tells you something," added Hinrichs, who previously led Ford's operations in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
The Mustang was redesigned to appeal to a global audience, in keeping with Mulally's effort to cut costs by building models that can be sold around the world with a few tweaks.
The new look may alienate some enthusiasts. Leaked images of the car earlier this week drew varied responses.
"If I were planning the next Mustang today, I'd try to recreate a low-priced sports car that was more exciting than the Focus and would appeal to younger buyers," said Hal Sperlich, the chief architect of the original Ford Mustang.
"I'm not sure this will sell well in Europe, where gasoline is close to 10 bucks a gallon," he said. "A $50,000 Mustang with a V8 engine probably isn't going to have a significant impact there."
The new Mustang also features the trapezoid grill that lends a more premium look to the updated Fusion midsize sedan that was given a global redesign of its own last year.
It also has a new suspension system to improve handling and a lower, wider stance. Ford is offering a 2.3 liter turbocharged engine in the Mustang as well.
So far this year, the Chevrolet Camaro, made by General Motors Co, is outselling the Mustang. Mustang sales were down 7.7 percent to 71,459 during the first 11 months of 2013. Camaro sales were off 3.8 percent to 75,552 during that same period.
The original Mustang was introduced at the New York World's Fair on April 17, 1964, to national fanfare. It was featured on the covers of Time and Newsweek magazine and was purchased by more than half a million customers in 1965, its first full year on the market.
The Mustang was the inspiration for the R&B song "Mustang Sally," which was popular in the mid-1960s, and has been featured in Hollywood movies. Steve McQueen, for instance, famously drove a dark green Mustang in the 1968 film "Bullitt."