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Autos

How does new Ford Mustang fit in amid self-driving cars, mpg rules?

2015 Ford Mustang
A new 2015 Ford Mustang in the parking lot of Mel’s Drive-in in West Hollywood on Sept. 17. Ford brought a fleet of 50 early-production Mustangs to Southern California for 250 car critics to put the car through its paces in the local mountains and on the Pacific Coast Highway.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Sales of the 2015 Ford Mustang – the sixth generation in the 50-year history of the sports coupe – start in the coming months.

In advance of those sales, Ford brought a fleet of 50 early-production Mustangs to Southern California and plans to gather 250 car critics in the area to put the newest pony car through its paces in the local mountains and Pacific Coast Highway. 

We chatted with Raj Nair, Ford’s global product development chief, about the car, its design philosophy and its future.

Stringent fuel economy and emissions rules globally are changing the way cars are built and fueled. The industry is pushing toward self-driving vehicles. People a generation from now may be driven to work by an electric car. Is there a place in a world such as that for a seventh-, eighth- or even 10th-generation Mustang?

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I would love to think that we will be able to find a balance of enabling autonomous vehicles, and the safety they provide -- and a lot of different transportation solutions that will help with the challenges of personal mobility and congestion and the impact on the environment -- and still have room for a vehicle like Mustang.

There are a lot of things that people do that aren’t always about utility – just simple things done for enjoyment. Why do you get hauled up to the top of a mountain and put two planks of wood on your feet and ski back down and get on a chair to get hauled back up again? You are not really going anywhere. It is freezing cold, but I love doing it.

I hope that the world doesn’t become so logical and so focused on just the outcome (getting from point A to B) that we forget the journey can be a lot of fun.

What word describes Mustang?

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I would say freedom. The aspect of freedom that you feel not just by having a piece of equipment that provides you with personal mobility but the emotional engagement you can have with a machine moving you along. It also is the irrational sense of joy you have in a vehicle that is very difficult to explain. That is what the Mustang embodies.

What were you trying to do with this latest generation?

We really wanted to do the best Mustang we have ever done on almost every attribute. We wanted to modernize the vehicle but still make it unmistakably a Mustang. We wanted to bring a lot of features and content into the vehicle. We really wanted to push the driving dynamics and the performance of the vehicle.

Three engine choices, all with at least 300 horsepower, including the base engine, was a goal. We wanted that base vehicle to perform really well so we didn’t have everybody wishing they had purchased the V8 engine.

There are two new features in the Mustang that stand out from previous generations. One is the new 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder “EcoBoost” engine that puts out 310 horsepower. The other is the new rear-wheel drive architecture that could be used in other vehicles. What else will Ford do with this technology?

The 2.3-liter engine will be the basis for many introductions. It is in our Lincoln MKC in a front-wheel drive version right now. Because of the configuration and the packaging, the rear-wheel drive version of the 2.3-liter engine in the Mustang breathes a little better. So it is a little higher performing than the front-wheel drive configuration. It is going to be a mainstay. It is a little early to talk about other rear-wheel drive platform vehicles.

Did you look at other manufacturers’ cars when you were designing this vehicle?

We pay a lot of attention to the competition but one thing about Mustang is that it is not targeting any specific competitor. It is about doing a Mustang. We have a pretty good idea of what we think Mustangs should be and how to use some opportunities such as putting in the EcoBoost 2.3-liter engine to expand its popularity.

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From the very beginning we had a view that we are going to take Mustang global ... but not really changing our vision of what Mustang should be. Those global customers are asking for a Mustang. They are not asking for a vehicle that doesn’t deliver on the heritage of an American icon.

Follow me on Twitter (@LATimesJerry), Facebook and Google+.


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