The Ford Motor Company is giving its Mustang a unique 50th birthday present: death.
Detroit will still market an automobile called the Mustang. It just won't bear much of a resemblance to the iconic roadster driven by the likes of Lt. Frank Bullitt and James Bond.
Ford's new "Evos" concept features gull-wing doors, a rounded, aerodynamic body, and a smaller design clearly inspired by Europe. When Ford officially unveils its new Mustang in 2014, company insiders insist it will embrace this visual transformation.
More pertinent than its changing look will be its changing feel. Rumors abound, to the chagrin of drag racers, regarding the introduction of independent rear suspension. The five-liter engine supposedly morphs into a two-liter one. There is even talk of a hybrid Mustang.
Why not a hang-glider F-18?
A 2012 Ford Mustang boasting an eight-cylinder, five-liter engine goes from zero to sixty in less than five seconds. It takes a lot of fuel to generate all that power. The muscle car travels an average of twenty miles for every gallon of gasoline consumed. It's a performance car, albeit one that performs the way that drivers, rather than bureaucrats, want.
Twenty miles per gallon is considerably less than fifty-six miles to the gallon. That is the 2025 industry fuel-efficiency standard announced by the Obama Administration last year. With automakers having to produce a fleet of cars traveling an average of further than 56 miles per gallon by 2025, and further than 34 miles per gallon by 2016, a Mustang guzzling a gallon of gas every twenty miles would be certain to bring the fleet average below the mandated standard.
"If we're going to help you, then you've got to change your ways," President Barack Obama said of the Motown Bailout in Cannon Falls, Minnesota last August. "You can't just make money on SUVs and trucks. There is a place for SUVs and trucks, but as gas prices keep on going up, you have got to understand the market."
Could it be that the market and the masters disagree?
The market has kept the Ford Mustang on showroom floors for 48 years. One of its few elder siblings in the Ford family, the F-150 truck, has been America's bestselling automobile for a quarter-century. In fact, every one of the U.S.'s 15 bestselling automobiles moves less than 40 miles per gallon of gasoline.
Recent years have seen the extinction of the Crown Victoria and the Lincoln Town Car. The former's popularity as a police car and the latter's status as the sole luxury livery vehicle make Ford's decision particularly confusing. But when one factors in the demands of regulators, as well as the demands of drivers, the decision makes sense in a senseless kind of way. So Mustang lovers may count their blessings that their dream car is "evolving" rather than ending.
In contrast, Ford has amped up production on the Focus Electric, whose lithium-ion battery can give it 100 miles between chargings. In the first quarter of this year, Ford sold a few dozen Electrics in a nation of 311 million people. The battery-powered Focus has much ground to gain if it is to match the Mustang's first-year production of 418,812.
Full disclosure: the first car I purchased was a '91 Mustang LX. As a 21-year old more familiar with train tokens than crankshafts, I remained ignorant of the car's reputation as a street racer until similarly sporty cars invariably revved engines at red lights. My lack of interest in turning city streets into the Daytona International Speedway left would-be competitors disappointed. I had bought the car because I liked the way it looked. But Mustang's reputation left me curious, and with nobody on the roads on a dark morning drive to my Marine Reserve center, I accelerated to 115 miles-per-hour until good sense overcame rash youth. My heart accelerated with the car. Only then did I discover the key to the car's popularity. Whereas I liked the freedom of the drop-top, most others craved the power of the engine.
The Environmental Protection Agency may prefer Obamamobile Chevy Volts to the high-performance, low-mileage sports cars. But the American public exhibits a clear preference for the latter. Zero-to-sixty in five seconds just feels realer than global warming.
The classic American sports car survived the Pontiac Firebird, OPEC's oil embargo, and Ford's '70s-era Mustang II Pinto-like redesign. The Mustang won't survive Obama.