L.A. Auto Show: Ford announces plans for new-generation Mustang debut

Get ready for the new Ford Mustang.

At the start of the L.A. Auto Show on Tuesday, Ford Motor Co. said it will unveil the sixth generation of the original Pony Car at events in Los Angeles; New York; and Dearborn, Mich., on Dec. 5.

The new version is expected to go on sale next year, 50 years after the first Mustang, a 1965 model, debuted April 17, 1964, at the New York World's Fair.

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Ford is closely guarding details on the most recognizable car ever to bear the blue oval.  Horsepower, engine choices and fuel economy figures will come in December.

The automaker will say this much: You won't mistake this car for anything but a Mustang. Legions of Mustang faithful know that likely means a long hood, short rear deck and gobs of horsepower. (There will be no second coming of the 1974 Mustang II, the Pinto-based miniature Mustang that sold from 1974 to 1978 -- and the least likely to become a classic.)

But there’s no shortage of opinions on what the new model should be like, said Joel Piaskowski, the Ford design director responsible for generation six.

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“Everybody has in their own mind what they think is a Mustang,” Piaskowski said “We hear it from our customer; we heard it from our management.”

In approaching the new model, Piaskowski said he was cognizant of “50 years of gravity” to honor.

There are 200 Mustang clubs globally, even one in remote Iceland. The car has 5.3 million Facebook fans, a majority of them outside the U.S. It has been featured on postage stamps, watches and luggage, and even has had its own fragrance.  Singers as distant in time and place as Chuck Berry and Katy Perry have sung about the Mustang.

“In places like Germany and Brazil where we don’t even sell a Mustang, the car is one of the top 10 nameplates connected with the brand,” said James Farley Jr., Ford’s  executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service.

“It is not just about going fast for the performance,” Farley said. People gravitate to the Mustang  to take a “long trip up the coast on PCH or to drive with an open top.”

That worldwide appeal is one reason why the new Mustang will be sold overseas.

This is going to be a global vehicle for Ford. It will also host debuts in Barcelona, Spain; Shanghai; and Sydney, Australia.

But that creates a design challenge for the car company, said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for the AutoPacific Inc. consulting firm.

“The Mustang will have to be appealing to a wider group of people than ever before in terms of appearance and design,” he said. “They will need a more European rather than retro interior.”

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The automaker has sold about 9 million Mustangs over the last five decades.  Some were notable, such as the 1968 Mustang fastback and several high-powered Shelby Cobra iterations.

Others went awry.

Constrained by new emissions standards and an oil crisis, the 1973 version had a timid 150 horsepower packed into a V-8, less than half what the standard V-6 in the current model produces today.

Ford can’t afford a misfire with this new-generation Mustang, said Tom Libby, an analyst with automotive research firm R.L. Polk & Co.

“It is the symbol of the brand,” Libby said.

Over the decades, Mustang has been the top car in what is considered the midsize sport segment of the auto industry.  But back in 2009 it was surpassed in U.S. sales by its archrival, the Chevrolet Camaro, and has trailed ever since.  

Through the first 10 months of this year, Chevrolet has sold a little more than 70,484, according to Autodata Corp. Ford has sold 66,083 Mustangs.

“There is a lot of pride involved here,” Libby said. “They want the Mustang back on top."

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