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

And there it was, the no we had been praying for. The negative that was a positive, a no to corporate hubris and a yes to populist sensibilities. We started to relax.

But first Steve Ling, Ford's Car Marketing Manager, had his say. He's the voice of the customer inside in the Blue Oval, the person charged with carrying out the market research Jim and Raj had cited. Steve gave the most sophisticated interpretation of we Mustang owners, and more importantly, Mustang intenders, yet.

"What is it that customers love about Mustang, and what is it that they want to see in a next-generation car?" Steve asked. "...When we looked at what our current Mustang covers—and sometimes we talk about those customers as Mustang lovers—and what other people that we thought could be enticed with this (car), those needs and wants were largely the same. And we're not just talking about a place like here in the U.S.—I'm talking about around the world."

"...People from all walks of life and all stages of life are into Mustang. But what we found was the thread, the thread that really pulled everyone together, was the emotions, the values. What is it they really value? And what is the feeling that they want to have when they look at a car like this and drive a car like this?" Steve continued. "So, let me jump to the chase... first and foremost the word freedom kept coming up. And freedom is one of those big, ambiguous words in some ways, and people have a little different meaning, but it was basically to say, 'Let me do what I want to do,' and that was something that came true with everyone."

It is really the essence of Ford on a good day… And isn't that what cars should be?

"Now, secondly, we found there were a lot of independent people who like to think of themselves as independent, competent people, but interestingly, they like to hang out with other people just like that. We found a lot of people that were confident, they like to put their personal snap on things, things that they own, things that they like to do," he said. "…Oftentimes they would tell us they define success by the experiences that they have in life and not necessarily by what they own—outside of their Mustang, by the way, but also what they get to do with it, who are the people they get to meet, what are the things they get to do. And... that was the case when we were talking to people in North America, people in Asia, Europe, down in South America. It was unbelievable how common that was..."

"...How does it make them feel when they are driving the car? Well, again, probably no big surprise where freedom came up, independence [did too]. The fact that they felt independent when they get a chance to drive it, right?" Steve added. "I must get 50 emails a day from various customers coming back, but one of the reoccurring, common themes is something like, 'I had a really crummy day [then] I went down to the parking lot. I started my Mustang, and it's like it all went away. It was like an instant vacation.' That doesn't happen with every car. That happens with Mustang."

"Again, (it's) similar around the world, putting on that personal stamp, the fact that they could customize it is something the really loved," he said.

"Another thing that was really great was a recognition by a lot of people of what the team has been doing the last few years—always pushing it, always moving on to greater capabilities. They really encouraged us to stay on that trajectory," and here Steve says the customers cited the '08 Bullitt, the Boss 302, and the Shelbys.

"What are the potential differences between those people who love Mustangs and those we hope to entice? ...What we saw was maybe a little more female, a little bit younger, but not much difference. The big thing they brought up was they just want the latest design and technology. And the biggest opportunity that we identified was, although we've made a lot of improvements, there were certain people who... didn't see how the car had progressed since '05," Steve explained. "So the people who were knowledgeable about Mustang love what's been going on (and) saw all these dramatic changes, but there were a lot of people who didn't because in their viewpoint, the car hadn't changed enough. And, they weren't investigating it. So that was a good moment for us to really appreciate that, and there's nothing like a new, shiny penny in a car to change that vision."

"You'll appreciate there's a lot more to Mustang, all the physical aspects... the racing, the featured marques... whether it was a Bullitt or Boss, SVO or Mach 1, you name it, all of that has been part of the secret sauce that people have really liked... pull it all together, we were pretty lucky. Here we have a brand that globally people were aware of it, they understood what it meant, and they found it really favorable," Steve said. "Two, they liked what they saw in terms of what was happening, and they encouraged us to continue on an evolution of Mustang. A lot of people said, 'We know you know what this car is, and you've kept true to that. Keep it going, just keep pushing the capability like you are...'"

"The final piece I want to bring up... [and] is so important, is most people know this car is important to Ford Motor Company. You know, we had a lot of engineers who said, 'I came to Ford because I wanted to work on this program. I wanted to work on this car.' Whether it's Bill Ford all the way through our dealers, it really lives in their hearts and souls, and people know that," Steve concluded. "And the fact that they know how important that is—and that the people who work on Mustang are the people who drive it, and race it, and show it, and just enjoy it fully—it means a lot. It's one of the key reasons Mustang is as good as it is, and has been over the years. And the fact that they acknowledged that tells us quite a bit."

And with that, we were ushered outside to see the '15 unveiled. As we made the short walk into the private courtyard reserved for such private viewings, we were reassured. We hadn't even seen the new car yet, but it was clear Ford had been thinking long and hard about what Mustang customers wanted and how they could deliver.