A Tale of Two Fords
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December 8, 2013
The new 2015 Ford Mustang unveiled last week is supposed to be the first "world car" Mustang. Up until its creation, one of the great icons of the American auto industry was rolling around on what is, to the European auto industry, laughably outdated technology. Anyone who's seen Top Gear (and what car guy hasn't?) knows the disdain shown for the old-tech Mustang.
Up until the past few years, Europe had its automotive market with its demands and Americans had their own expectations for their automobiles. Henry Ford II famously said, "Americans like to blast along over interstate highways at eighty miles an hour in big cars with every kind of power attachment, windows up, air conditioning on, radio going, one finger on the wheel. That's what they want, and that's what they buy, and that's what we manufacture. We build the best cars we can to meet the taste of the American people." Ford probably straddled the two markets best, creating a British-based European division with its own separate lineup of products, different from the American vehicle lineup.
One fun little note about how far this new "world Mustang" has come is that when the Mustang was first created, it was sold as the T-5 in Germany, using a previous production code the Mustang concept carried for its name because "Mustang" was already trademarked and used by another locally-made vehicle.
Coincidentally, as the new Mustang was unveiled we eagerly await the release of the sixth installment of the Fast & Furious franchise on DVD, in which Brian O'Conner drives a hot little European Ford Escort. My wife and I were talking about he movie, of course, as Paul Walker's death made it front-page automotive news, and I mentioned I couldn't wait to see that Escort. "That's an ESCORT?!?!" was the approximate response I got. Yes, while Britain's Ford Escort was winning rallies and put the hot in "hot hatchback," the homely car badged "Escort" in America put the "box" in "econobox."
And in 1982, that was completely acceptable. We had separate medias, separate television programs, separate magazines. Then came the new worldwide media. Gran Turismo introduced American kids to Japanese cars we had never heard of before, setting the stage for the popularity of the original Fast & Furious. Top Gear on BBC America introduced us to European cars we hadn't seen before. The internet, where companies have separate US and EU websites but can't control all the sharing on Twitter and Facebook, showed the world what we've been up to and haven't sent overseas.
Now, suddenly, we're all looking longingly across our oceans wondering, "why can't we get that here?"
Reenter Ford into the discussion.
Ford tried to bring a European car to America before, badging Europe's Mondeo the Ford Contour. It was small and relatively expensive compared to the Taurus, and justifying the separate markets, American buyers rejected it.
Then, instead of having comparable American and European versions in the same class of cars, Ford replaced the Escort with the European-designed Focus and had a legitimate hit. But as the years wore on, the market demands for certain features caused Ford to again split the designs, and there was an American Focus and a European Focus.
Alan Mulally, formerly of the Boeing company, became Ford's CEO in 2006. He came to the company and wondered why the automaker spent so much designing two sets of cars. Boeing never had to do anything like that, they sold the same airframes worldwide, they just made minor modifications for language, culture, and geographic demands of their various buyers.
The American buyer was changing, too. As American has prices rose to cut the difference between the US and Europe, fuel economy and small, well-built vehicles gained importance. No longer would cubic feet and poundage of chrome again alone determine "luxury" on the American market. Suddenly, despite our ongoing love of pickup trucks and muscle cars, the American market is embracing technology, international styles and the idea that luxury does not equal size.
At the same time, the European Union and the US's NHTSA have been discussing coordinating our safety standards to create an open market where cars wouldn't have to be adapted much or go through difficult import processes to be brought from one continent to another.
The new Ford Mustang is another step in the direction of a unified American and European market. Whether or not it is successful, of course, won't be known until it goes on sale, and whether or not the latest iteration of this great American iconic car receives a good review from Jeremy Clarkson. If it works well in both markets, it could be that someday the only separation between the American and European automobile markets will be geographic.
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