Ford’s (NYSE:F) iconic Mustang debuted at the New York Auto Show 49 years ago on April 17, and ever since that moment, the car has been an important part of American culture. Its appearance in more than 500 movies has cemented its position in the American collective conscious. As James Bond, Sean Connery evaded a Mustang driven by a beautiful female assassin in 1964’s Goldfinger; Steve McQueen drove a 1968 Mustang in the 9-minute, 42-second car chase in Bullitt; and an orange 1973 Mustang Mach I starred as the getaway vehicle in 1974’s Gone in 60 Seconds.
The longest-tenured Ford employee, Ed Salna, drove the one-millionth Ford Mustang manufactured at the company’s new Flat Rock Assembly Plant — a ruby red 2014 convertible — off the assembly line Wednesday afternoon, on the vehicle’s birthday. Nine years ago, the automaker moved Mustang production to the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, located approximately 25 miles southwest of Detroit, from its original location in Dearborn, Michigan. The one-millionth Mustang rolled off the line in Dearborn back in 1966.
Ford’s Mustang has lived a life full of twists and turns. “I remember when Ford Motor Company wanted to end the Mustang,” United Auto Workers Vice President Jimmy Settles, who was present for the event, told AOL Autos. “I also remember when it was $99 down and $99 a month.”
Since the Dearborn-based automaker unveiled the iconic pony car in 1964, more than 8.5 million Mustangs have been produced. With the first Mustang, the company even defined an entire class of American automobiles, known as the pony car, which refers to a sports car-like coupe with a long hood. But the time has come for a refresh. As Detroit News reported Thursday, Ford has recognized that it has to keep the Mustang fresh to boost sales.
Sales of the Mustang hit historic lows in the United States in recent years, although global demand for the car is at an all-time high.
While Raj Nair, Ford’s vice president of global production development, declined to explain the company’s future plans for the Mustang in any detail, he did have an answer when asked by the publication what Ford needed to accomplish with the refreshed car. “The thing about refresh rates is they are a key factor in your market share,” he said. But Nair was quick to add that Ford would not make any hasty alterations or make any radical moves to increase sales.
“We’ve got a very strong idea of what a Mustang is,” he said. “That’s what Mustang will always be.”
Yet, it is undeniable that the Mustang is not exactly what it once was, at least not in terms of sales. Sales of General Motors’ (NYSE:GM) Chevrolet Camaro muscle car have been higher than those of the Mustang for the past three consecutive years. While the difference in sales between the two may only amount to approximately 1,400 vehicles, overall Mustang sales are less than half of what they were in the 1990s.
The reason for this decline is simple: in the expanding automobile market, customers have more choices, general interest in the current-generation of Mustangs has waned, and fans are waiting for the next edition. “There’s a lot of other choices for those wanting to express themselves, which is the basis of what the Mustang is about,” Kelley Blue Book executive analyst Jack Nerad told Detroit News. “The Mustang is a ‘Hey, look at me’ car, and if there’s a new car like the Camaro that’s even more ‘Hey, look at me,’ then that’s the one I’m going to buy.”
Demand for the Mustang has accelerated to what Ford has termed critical mass outside of the United States, particularly in Europe, and the company will begin selling Mustangs in Europe for the first time since the 1970s. But Nair insisted that opening up sales to such a large market will not prompt the company to make significant changes. It’s an American icon, but it’s not solely an American passion,” Nair told the publication. “There’s always regulatory requirements, but relative to the car, a Mustang is a Mustang.”
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