Barely two months after loading the first of the new 2015 Mustangs onto a ship for the journey to Asia, Ford Motor Co. claims the pony car is in full gallop overseas.
Though Ford has always had a few small foreign markets for Mustang, with grey market imports available in others, this year, with the launch of the 50th anniversary model, marks the first time Mustang has officially gone global.
And initial indications are positive. Even as U.S. sales climbed 32% last month compared to February 2014, Ford claims folks have visited the Mustang page on its European website, while nearly 1.1 million put together their dream version on the site’s vehicle configurator. In China, meanwhile, more than 18,000 potential buyers have already signed up for a test drive.
Since Alan Mulally first joined the Detroit carmaker as its CEO nearly a decade ago, the maker has been focusing on a so-called One Ford strategy. Set to continue under new Chief Executive Mark Fields, a key goal is to go global with as many products as possible.
Among other things, the increased economies of scale can help Ford deliver more vehicle for the money. In the case of Mustang, the 2015 model got a long-sought – and well-reviewed – new independent rear suspension, as well as major interior upgrades. And the 2015 model will be factory-built with both conventional Left-Hand Drive (LHD) and Right-Hand Drive (RHD). RHD is the motoring convention in Japan, the U.K. and most former British colonies — with the notable exception of Canada.
“Mustang is just one more example of the international demand for Ford cars and trucks,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s President of the America, said in January, when the first boatload of pony cars set sail for China. “The success of our One Ford plan presents opportunities for growth in global markets.”
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In the 49 years prior to the latest-generation Mustang’s launch, a mere 161,000 of the pony cars were sold outside North America. Many of those went through grey market distributors to places like Sweden, a country that has long had a fetish for classic American muscle cars from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Even so, that worked out to an average of barely 3,200 a year—in other words, a pittance compared to the American market, where total sales over nearly half a century amounted to around 9 million.
But even before the new 2015 model debuted, Ford was already beginning to take official aim at more overseas markets. Significantly, in 2012, more than 4,000 Mustangs were sold in 35 countries overseas, a substantial increase over the 49-year average. But that was little more than half the monthly average for U.S. Mustang sales.
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Considering the size of the Chinese market, Ford has strong expectations there – and it claims its research shows that one of every 12 consumers there already knows of the Mustang.
Interestingly, initial data suggest that the most popular colors in the U.S. are also connecting abroad. Based on the first million consumers to use the European configurator, red and black are the top paint picks. Race Red is tops with Chinese fans, though Oxford White narrowly edged out black.
Beyond offering both left and right-hand-drive and meeting national safety, mileage and emissions standards, Ford is taking other steps to localize the Mustang. It says it ran extensive testing on the legendary Nurburgring race track, for example, to ensure the pony car is up to the high-speed driving demands of German drivers.
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But perhaps the most important step in preparing for the global launch was the addition of the new 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine. Designed to balance performance and fuel economy – critical in markets like Europe, where gas can cost $8 or more a gallon – the turbocharged EcoBoost is expected to be the engine of choice overseas.
Ford expects the new Mustang to help boost exports from its U.S. assembly plants, meanwhile. It shipped abroad about 380,000 vehicles made in the States in 2013, the latest year for which it has released numbers. That makes it one of the top exporters of American-made vehicles.