Automakers are always looking for maximum splash with the launch of a new vehicle, but Ford pulled out all stops during the 6-city debut of the new 2015 Mustang last week. But perhaps the most significant bit of news was buried in the press package for the 50th Anniversary model, which contained a section titled “Mustang Going Global,” which built on a teaser news release from October that noted there are now “nearly 100 (Mustang) clubs outside the United States.”
To be clear, Mustangs have, in fact, been sold “around the world” since the pony car’s launch in April 1964—but not with the big push Dearborn is planning now. According to the October release, a mere 161,000 Mustangs have been sold outside North America in its 49 years of existence, an average of barely than 3,200 a year—in other words, a pittance compared to the American market, where total sales over nearly half a century have amounted to around 9 million.
But demand has been rising. Significantly, in 2012, more than 4,000 Mustangs were sold in 35 countries overseas, a substantial increase over the 49-year average. To put this in perspective, note that Mustang U.S. sales for ten months this year have averaged 6,600 a month.
For the 2015 model, an increase can be anticipated for the simple reason the new Mustang will be factory-built with both conventional Left-Hand Drive (LHD) and Right-Hand Drive (RHD). RHD is the motoring convention in Japan and mostly everywhere else the sun never set on the British Empire — with the notable exception of Canada. So this will help ‘Stang sales in those markets where variable costs for conversions were, until now, prohibitive.
These Siamese-twin Mustangs will be assembled on the same line at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly plant a few miles southwest of Detroit. This is a location where cast-iron engine blocks once were cast before a modern assembly plant was constructed on the same property. It operated as a joint venture with Mazda until 2012 when the Japanese maker ended U.S. production, leaving the facility all to Ford.
(New Mustang designed to balance new and old. Click Here for a closer look.)
Curiously, this is not the first time RHD Ford cars have been built in the U.S. on the same line as conventional North American LHD cars. When the 1996 Ford Taurus switched to a new body, there was belief the car could be sold globally, so both RHD and LHD models were assembled at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant. (Both versions flopped in their marketplaces relative to the previous stellar U.S. performance of the original left-hand-drive Taurus.)
Converting from LHD to RHD is not easy. Not only does the functional hardware like pedal and steering attachments have to be reworked (and retooled), the same is true of instrument panels and other controls, such as the switches located in the driver’s door panel.
Back in the 1930s, instrument panels were designed to be symmetrical, so mirror-image conversions were relatively easy. Not so for most modern American cars. Today’s center stacks help, but still the instrumentation in front of the left-hHand driver has to be flipped.
(2015 Mustang is swan song for retiring Ford design chief J Mays. Click Here for the story.)
At one time, Ford regularly built RHD versions of North American vehicles in its Canadian assembly plant since that output got favorable tax treatment within Britain’s “sterling markets.” That ended in the 1960s. Thus, for Ford to embark on RHD markets from a U.S. assembly plant is a big step, counting on the testosterone of Mustang males globally.
Here’s the list of 29 countries that the Ford release identified as “new right-hand-drive markets” for “original factory-built right-hand-drive Mustangs”: Australia, Bangladesh, Britain, Brunei, Cyprus, Fiji Islands, Hong Kong/Macau, Ireland, Kenya, Kiribati, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Surinam, Tanzania, Timor-Leste (East Timor), Trinidad/Tobago, Western Samoa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. RHD also prevails in such places as Iceland, which indeed has one of the Mustang clubs.
Still, the global Mustang, whether LHD or RHD, fits in with wunderkind CEO Alan Mulally’s “One Ford” concept in which all new vehicles must be global, an objective long sought at the company’s Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters but rarely accomplished.
(What about the Mustang convertible? Click Here to find out.)
Recall that Ford’s 1981 Escort was portrayed as a “world car”? It wasn’t so. The Euro and American versions were similar in many dimensions but far from interchangeable – in fact, while the U.S. version continued to use the familiar English measurements, the overseas models were tooled for metric parts and components. That day is presumably long past, to the benefit of the company’s stockholders.
Is the investment in a rear-wheel-drive Mustang justified? Yes, especially if the platform with its IRS could be used, as some speculate, for a future rear-drive Lincoln.
So how will Mustangs be sold overseas? According to a Ford export operations retiree with whom I happened to talk last week, at least in Continental Europe there was a Dutch company functioning as a distributor. This company, not Ford, established dealers on the Continent to sell exclusively North American Ford products. It remains to be seen if Ford will take this limited-volume approach or put Mustang on the floor of its own European showrooms – a potentially much higher-volume strategy.
Remember the Lincoln Town Car seen in the Supreme Leader’s funeral procession in the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea a couple of years ago? That car no doubt was bootlegged over to the closed Communist country by a Japanese dealer. The marketplace has a way of working when the demand is there.
Will the all-new Mustang sell overseas? For sure. Interestingly, in many overseas markets, Ford will offer Mustangs equipped only with the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder EcoBoost and the new 5.0-liter V8, not the carryover base V6, playing customers for both fuel economy with the 2.3 and high performance with the 5.0.
Ford’s pony car has great appeal because of its worldwide reputation—Steve McQueen’s Bullitt certainly didn’t hurt—and the fact that for those buyers who can afford it, Mustang with all its variety of colors and options is bound to be unique wherever in the globe it is sold.
I well recall that the first thing young Japanese male tourists in Hawaii appear to do is hike themselves over to a car rental agency to sign up for a Mustang convertible during their vacations. Whether they’ll now buy one at home remains to be seen.