Molly McQueen, the granddaughter of actor Steve McQueen, introduces the 2018 Ford Mustang Bullitt as it makes its debut at the 2018 North American International Auto Show on January 14, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan
Chicago (AFP) - The Ford Mustang – an iconic American brand and a symbol of cool – will reach a major milestone Wednesday as the 10 millionth vehicle rolls off an assembly line at a Detroit-area plant.
The car celebrated in American song and film, and recognized the world over as an iconic American cultural export, will get a big party at Ford’s Michigan headquarters.
It’s a turning point for the carmaker, which is banking on the Mustang’s wide appeal to help it grow global market share.
US sales of the Mustang are dropping, but they are accelerating overseas in markets such as China and Germany.
To celebrate the Mustang milestone, Ford is appealing to the sense of nostalgia for what is seen as the original “freedom vehicle” that exemplified Americans’ love of the open road. After all, the car was named after a horse that roams free in the American West.
“I can think of no other American car that captures the love affair with the automobile that Americans have had… like the Mustang,” automotive historian John Heitmann of the University of Dayton told AFP.
“It is as American as one can have an American product.”
- ‘A freedom vehicle’ -
The Mustang once germinated an entire subgenre of cars.
From a technical standpoint, the original 1965 Mustang was not meant as a muscle car intended to attract those who gravitate to fast wheels.
It was in fact one of the original so-called “pony cars” – a smaller, affordable, practical sibling of flashy sports cars intended to appeal to young professionals, including women.
But the Mustang became an icon almost from the start, in no small part thanks to marketing that would rival a modern-day iPhone launch.
It debuted in the spring, at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, far before other companies announced their latest offerings in the fall. It was hyped up in advance and automotive industry journalists were on hand.
Automotive historian Bob Merlis, at the time a teenager, witnessed the World’s Fair launch.
“It was almost like pandemonium. People were so excited about this car,” Merlis said.
“It was sort of a counterpoint to the very square, staid station wagon ethos that Americans grew up with in suburbia,” he recalled.
“It represented some kind of a freedom vehicle. It embodied that.”
Wilson Pickett immortalized the car in “Mustang and Sally,” a rhythm and blues classic of 1966.
Two years later, the American film star Steve McQueen drove a Mustang in the thriller “Bullitt” – cementing the car’s cool factor.
It even captured the public imagination overseas, appearing in the 1966 Oscar-winning French film “A Man and a Woman” by Claude Lelouch.
- Global draw -
Ford has been playing up that nostalgic past. At this year’s Detroit auto show, the company unveiled a new limited-edition Bullitt Mustang, along with McQueen’s restored original.
For its celebration, Ford intends to highlight Mustang owners’ loyalty to the brand by featuring the first Mustang ever purchased – still owned by the original purchaser.
Mustang owners also have been known to form clubs and restore older models.
“Our intent is to have all 54 years represented,” Ford spokesman Jihan Cadiz told AFP. “For us, obviously it’s a big day.”
The Mustangs will parade from the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, to the Flat Rock plant where Mustang are assembled.
The celebration is part of a strategic decision by the American auto giant to focus heavily on the sporty icon.
Mustangs soon will be one of only two passenger cars from Ford – along with a crossover Focus – sold in North America. All other Ford offerings will be trucks and SUVs.
Ford sold only about 81,000 Mustangs in 2017, a mere 0.5 percent of the North American car market, according to Autodata. But Mustang sales are growing overseas.
Auto industry analyst Karl Brauer of Kelly Blue Book said Ford is banking on Mustang’s pull as an American cultural symbol – even selling the vehicle well in places such as Germany, where there is a proud tradition of highly-engineered muscle cars.
“It sells extremely well globally,” Brauer said. “So clearly, there’s really a fan following.”
Since Ford began exporting Mustangs in 2015, it has become the world’s best-selling sports car.
The company also says the car is the best-selling coupe in China, which by 2025 is projected to have twice the share of the global car market compared to the US.