Tom Wilson
January 27, 2014
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Horse Sense: Our time researching this story took place at an early media viewing, so many of the specifics about the car were in flux. As such, it's quite possible some things have changed since we went to press.

Press events are typically boring in their predictability, but not the 2015 Mustang preview. Other than the rumors we knew little more than the next Mustang enthusiast as we walked into Ford's Product Development Center, and, frankly, we were more than curious.

New Mustangs are a rarity and certainly something to celebrate, but there's always a chance the car has moved laterally rather than forward. We only had to recall the '94 Mustang was a tepid refinement of the honest fun that had been the Fox, something that became more difficult to ignore the harder we wrung out those cars during their press event.

Still, Ford put things right in 1999, and has built nothing but increasingly better Mustangs since. Now, after the successes in 2005, 2010, and 2011 did Ford have the stuff to do it again? Could they identify and steer through the cultural narrows an all-new Mustang must pass on its way to universal appeal? With its incredible 50 years of history and its legendary wide draw, the Mustang is also more hemmed in by its own design cues and customer expectations than other nameplates, and did Ford have the understanding of their own design to walk the tightrope spanning the gulf between historical slavishness on one side and the future on the other?

Furthermore, what has Ford meant when saying the Mustang is now a world car to be sold around the globe? Did this mean hardware designed for European or Asian sensibilities rolling onto Woodward Avenue?

So it was something of a long, anticipatory walk down the wide corridors inside the Development Center and into a design studio. And there, in a temporary alley of signboards filled with 50 years of Mustang cultural highlights, were one of each—a '65, '67, and '69 Mustang. A squad of Ford luminaries stood out while their adjutants stood by quietly on point.

There was no music, no mood lighting. This was a press briefing in the real world, and we sensed our pent curiosity and background apprehension was mixed with equal anticipation by the Ford team. After three years of secretive work, they were finally able to acknowledge their creation—and at the same time, lay it open for criticism. This was an important first impression that was a long time in the making.

We know what Mustang is supposed to be. we have an intuitive feel of where we're taking Mustang for the loyal customer as well as that broader appeal...

Jim Farley, Ford Executive Vice President of Global Marketing, Sales, and Service began to speak...

Now, Jim is an outlier in the catalog of Sanforized corporate personalities. His visual youth and off-the-cuff patterns can seem more like a recent college grad at his first job than the marketing power that launched Scion at Toyota and was hand-picked by Ford CEO Alan Mullay to bend Ford at its waist if necessary to bring it to its customers around the globe. But that's what makes his delivery so sincere. Jim is a headlong futurist and besotted by enthusiast driving—he has a garage full of big-block Cobra roadsters, a Shelby GT350 and Flathead street rod he drives to work. Jim packs the power of conviction, a belief in the good things to come, and the inevitability of great social change in our age, and this infuses his quietly delivered, seemingly conversational remarks with an odd, softly spoken tent-revival urgency that's rarely found in the structured corporate world.

"At the beginning of this project, Raj's team and my team, we really had to take a step back to really think: 'What is Mustang?' In the end, of course it's a car and it's an icon in our industry—50 years of continuous on-sale, which in itself is an unusual thing. And what we discovered when we talked to people everywhere... was that Mustang has turned into a product that people visualize their unfettered self in," Jim said. "And that idea is not just going fast. It is not just performance. The dream is much more universal than that. It can be commuting. It can be one turn. It can be a lifetime trip up the coast. The car has a much more universal dream usage than a lot of sports cars. And yes, it's a sports car, it's incredibly fun to drive, but what is appealing about it is much more essential."

Jim went on to document Mustang's incredible reach. It's 5-million-plus likes on Facebook, 200 marque clubs, and over 3,000 movie appearances—and if anything, the weight of meeting all those customer's expectations only seemed heavier.

"The last thing I want to say," Jim continued, "is surprisingly Mustang is on the Top 10 list of products that are connected to the (Ford) brand, and in places like Germany and Brazil, places where we don't even sell Mustangs. So, for whatever reason, customers have figured out how the Mustang connects to the brand without any advertising or even making the vehicle for sale. And it was with that the team pursued the idea of the 50th version of Mustang, with humbleness and insight from all of those customers."

"Frankly speaking, from a brand guy, this car is so much more than just 100,000 units or 70,000 units," he added. "It is really the essence of Ford on a good day. Which is visualizing yourself in your most relaxed and aspirational way. And isn't that what cars should be?"

It was vintage Jim Farley. Atmospheric and emotional, yet straight to the core. And reassuring, too, in that while we each individually have taken possession of Mustang, here was someone at the highest reaches of Ford showing the people in charge get it too. They've been listening—rather carefully, it turns out—to the customer.

Raj Nair, Group Vice President of Global Product Development, and an even more mad-keen redline artist than Jim, expanded the briefing by addressing the Mustang's newly assigned global outlook. Raj is the man tasked with hammering out the hardware that makes material Jim's lofty aspirations, and he also echoed the emphasis on listening carefully to what the Mustang customer wanted.

"We are moving it on," Raj said. "As we did the research of how to move it on, one aspect that really hit was this universal appeal. Not just in the U.S. but in the rest of the world…"

"Obviously, one of the bigger news (items) is that as we did the work on the universal appeal of the Mustang, we saw this opportunity to take this vehicle forward," he added. "In many respects, the Mustang customer was ready for this before we were. And now that we really are at a One Ford execution of product development, a One Ford execution of marketing and sales through Jim's [Farley] leadership, we're ready to take that step and broaden the appeal of the Mustang."

"But a key aspect of that is, and I get this question internally and I imagine I'll get it externally is, 'Now that you're taking it global, did you have to change anything?' Raj said. "And the resounding answer is no. We know what Mustang is supposed to be. We have an intuitive feel of where we're taking Mustang for the loyal customer as well as that broader appeal that's available to us."