Ford hopes Mustang drives passenger car sales
By PÉRALTE C. PAUL
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/27/04
1965 Shelby GT350
Maybe it was her curves. Or perhaps her ability to turn heads on the street as she passed by.
Maybe, just maybe, it was her subtle way of hinting that underneath all that niceness lay a heart of naughty.
Randy Justice tools away in his 1969 Shelby Mustang convertible on Sunday after a gathering of the Georgia Regional Mustang Club in Marietta. At top, the galloping icon that has symbolized Mustangs since 1964 graces the nose of a 2001 GT.
Whatever it was, Joe Krumpelman, 48, loves her just as much today as he did when they met 32 years ago when he was in high school.
That the object of his passion is a '66 Mustang comes as no surprise to any member of the Krumpelman family or their friends. His wife, Jodi, doesn't mind sharing. Her black hardtop '96 Mustang is parked alongside his lipstick-red convertible, in the specially-built-just-for-the-Mustangs detached garage behind their Marietta home.
That kind of loyalty to the Mustang, an iconic symbol of America's motoring prowess, is what kept its maker, Ford Motor Co. from putting it out to pasture in the early 1990s.
Today, the world's second-largest automaker is banking on the Mustang, which turned 40 this year, for a sales turnaround. Elena A. Ford, director of Ford's North American product marketing, is to be in Atlanta today as part of a 40-city tour across the United States and Canada. She'll be touting the redesigned Mustang and outlining the company's strategy for selling more passenger cars.
Thirty percent of Mustang owners will purchase at least one other Mustang in their lifetimes, and 50 percent of them own multiple Ford-branded cars and trucks, the company says. In the first half of this year, Ford sold 73,000 Mustangs, making it the automaker's third-best-selling car and its eighth-best-selling vehicle.
Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of company founder Henry Ford, will be pushing two new offerings: the Ford Five Hundred sedan and the station wagon-like Freestyle.
Georgia, one of the first states in the country where owners and enthusiasts formed Mustang clubs, ranks fifth in Mustang sales behind California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina. Ford also has a factory in Hapeville, which employs 2,203 and produces the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable.
First introduced in the fall of 1964 for $2,368, the Mustang has undergone three incarnations, including an ill-fated plan in the late 1980s to scrap its signature rear-wheel-drive design for a front-wheel-drive model.
With its head-to-taillight redesign for the 2005 model year, the Mustang has a retro look that harkens to the pony car's glory days of the late 1960s.
"The Mustang is incredibly unique in that it's a nameplate that's 40 years old and still vibrant," said Karl Brauer, editor in chief of Edmunds.com, an online automotive research firm. "It's the only nameplate to have sold 1 million [cars] in the first two years of production."
Even the Chevrolet Corvette, which made its debut nearly a decade before the Mustang, doesn't have that kind of nostalgic following.
Other so-called pony speed cars designed to compete directly with the Mustang — including the now-dead Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird — failed to keep pace with the Mustang's popularity.
"Our Mustang owners are exceptionally loyal not just to the nameplate but the entire Ford division brand," said Paul Russell, Ford's manager for the Mustang, the GT and the Thunderbird.
The new Mustang is the centerpiece of Ford's plan to narrow the gap with Japanese-made passenger cars that left American automakers struggling to keep up.
For years, Detroit's Big Three — Ford, General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group — concentrated on churning out pickup trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles.
They were heftier and guzzled a lot more gasoline, but they carried fatter profit margins.
Now, U.S. automakers are thinking the future is smaller.
"They realize their market share is diminishing at a frightening rate, and SUVs are losing their fad status," Brauer said. "This happened to the Americans before. They had nothing but big cars, then in 1974, in came the Japanese with fuel-efficient cars."
Detroit's shift toward passenger cars again, Brauer said, is fueled by concerns over gas prices, fears about Middle East oil supply disruptions, Americans' increased environmental awareness and the cooling SUV trend.
Russell said Ford is "strongly entrenched" in the truck and SUV business.
"But we need to demonstrate to the market and the world that we're building cars," he said. "Long-term growth and the ability to regain market share is important."
The Big Three have a lot of catching up to do, however. In 1980, Ford, GM, Chrysler and the now-defunct American Motors Corp., owned 74 percent of the U.S. passenger car market, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. But by 2004, Detroit's share of passenger car sales had shrunk to 46 percent.
Ford actually grew passenger car sales during those years, in large part because of its once hugely popular Escort, Taurus and Mercury Sable.
Loyal base key
Key to regaining that market share is the Mustang and loyal customers like the Krumpelmans, who are members of the Kennesaw-based Georgia Regional Mustang Club.
Aside from their common love of the Mustang, they and other regional clubs host cruise-ins and hold races to raise money for causes such as children's charities and buying guide dogs for the blind.
The club's 110 members collectively own about 55 Mustangs and about 80 other Ford-branded cars and trucks, estimates Joe Krumpelman, who is the club's regional director.
The Krumpelmans and one of their daughters own five Fords: two Mustangs, an Explorer, a Ranger and an Escort. (Their other daughter had owned a Ford Probe, and family members raised eyebrows when she sold it for a Chrysler Jeep.)
"We are very loyal to our Ford," said Jodi Krumpelman, a 47-year-old bank branch manager. "One of my proudest days was when we became a five-Ford family."
Joe Krumpelman, explaining his passion for all things Mustang and the six years he spent bringing his '66 convertible back to showroom shape, said, "It's called getting bit bad.
"I fell in love with it when I was a kid," said the AT&T engineer. "And it's stayed with me ever since."
2005 Mustang GT