De­mand over­seas keeps Mus­tang on top de­spite lower US sales

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

Mus­tang sales were up 40 per­cent in the first half of this year in China, where Guo owns three of them, in­clud­ing a 2005 GT con­vert­ible.

The for­mer race car driver finds Mus­tangs tougher and more fun to drive than Euro­pean or Ja­panese sports cars. The Mus­tang beat out two sleeker Euro­pean ri­vals, the BMW 4 Se­ries and the Porsche 911, to be­come No. 1.

“I like what is sim­ple and rough in a Mus­tang,” says Guo, who leads the Mus­tang Club of China, with more than 3,000 mem­bers.

The car’s largest fan club, the Mus­tang Club of Amer­ica, has around 12,000 mem­bers. But there are hun­dreds of smaller ones. The Ice­landic Mus­tang Club boasts 200 mem­bers.

Fans have been im­port­ing in­di­vid­ual Detroit-built Mus­tangs for decades, but Ford re­cently put in the en­gi­neer­ing mus­cle to en­sure that the cars could be sold in deal­er­ships around in the world.

The sixth-gen­er­a­tion Mus­tang, re­leased in 2015, is the first that comes in both right-hand and left-hand drive ver­sions.

Its air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem was built to with­stand blow­ing sand in the Mid­dle East, while its front end con­forms to Euro­pean pedes­trian-safety tions.

New mar­kets for the Mus­tang this year in­clude Brazil, Ivory Coast and Palau.

Ford’s global push makes the Mus­tang more ac­ces­si­ble to long­time fans like Fitz­patrick. When he was a teenager in New Zealand, Amer­i­can-made cars were ex­pen­sive sta­tus sym­bols. To him, Amer­i­can cars meant mus­cle. Euro­pean sports cars were smaller and less ag­gres­sive.

“I al­ways think of tour­ing and power when I think of Mus­tang,” says Fitz­patrick, who now owns two clas­sic Mus­tangs.

Heit­mann, the his­tory pro­fes­sor, says the Mus­tang is one of the few cars that is ap­peal­ing — and af­ford­able — to nearly every­one. A base model with a V6 en­gine starts at $25,000. Afi­ciona­dos will pay more than dou­ble that for a Shelby GT350 ver­sion with a V8. Heit­mann, 69, has owned two Mus­tangs in his life­time, and has his eye on the 2018 model.

“It’s demo­cratic. A work­ing-class per­son can drive this car to the plant, and a banker can drive it to the of­fice. You can’t do that with a Mercedes,” he says.

Tele­vi­sion and movies — like the 1968 thriller “Bul­litt” — also ce­mented the Mus­tang as a global icon.

“If you ask prac­ti­cally reg­ula- any­one to name an Amer­i­can car, 90 per­cent of the time they will say ‘a Mus­tang,’ ” says Frazer Rhodes of Hal­i­fax, Eng­land.

Rhodes bought a 2005 GT Con­vert­ible for his 30th birth­day in 2008. Af­ter so many friends asked to use it for wed­dings, he founded a com­pany that rents Mus­tangs for nearly 250 wed­dings per year.

Cou­ples — many of whom are head­ing to Las Ve­gas or Hawaii for their hon­ey­moons – want a car that’s cool, not the stuffy Rolls Royces their par­ents used, he says.

In the U.S., Mus­tang sales most re­cently spiked in 2015 when the new­est gen­er­a­tion was re­leased. They to­taled 122,349 that year, but have fallen ever since as that model ages, says Michelle Krebs, an ex­ec­u­tive an­a­lyst with Au­to­trader. Younger buy­ers are stretched fi­nan­cially and are less likely to splurge on a sports car, she said. And car buy­ing is in de­cline among Baby Boomers, who have long fu­eled sales of Detroit’s mus­cle cars.

But the Mus­tang will al­ways have its fans. Rib­ring, the 97-year-old Swede, has been smit­ten with the car’s de­sign and per­for­mance since 1964.

“Given that there was no speed limit in Swe­den dur­ing that time, there was only one op­tion: Buy!” he says.

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