Long wait for a brand-new pony
BY PATRICK DANNER
The Miami Herald
Danny Burkitt, 17, takes delivery of his 2005 Ford Mustang GT on Tuesday from salesman Clayton Miller of Maroone Ford in Fort Lauderdale. Ford has redesigned its stalwart Mustang, and the classic sports car is hitting showrooms this week. BOB EIGHMIE/HERALD STAFF
Cardinal Gibbons High School junior Danny Burkitt played hooky Tuesday, so he could be one of the first to take the keys to a 2005 Ford Mustang.
''You've got to get your priorities straight in life,'' cracked Mike Jackson, chairman and chief executive of AutoNation.
Jackson was on hand at Fort Lauderdale's Maroone Ford for the hoopla surrounding the rollout of the newly redesigned Mustang, which hit showrooms this week. Ford is counting on the Mustang to jump-start its car sales at a time when its share of the U.S. auto market has been shrinking.
Those wishing to own one may be in for a wait, however.
Beach Ford of North Miami Beach has a waiting list of about 50 buyers. Ford of Coral Gables has 70 buyers lined up, with about 20 having put down deposits. The Maroone Ford dealership expects to take delivery of 25 Mustangs through the end of the year, and they're all spoken for.
Supplies are expected to be tight for at least a few months. Ford intends to produce 150,000 Mustangs this model year, including a soft-top version expected to roll out in the spring. It sold 140,350 Mustangs last year, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.
The Mustang's arrival in South Florida has been preceded by a lot of hype. The carmaker hopes the buzz will draw buyers to showrooms and help pump up sales of its other cars, which have been overshadowed by its trucks and SUVs in recent years.
The 2005 pony car borrows heavily from its storied legacy, particularly the late 1960s, when the Mustang co-starred with Steve McQueen in the film Bullitt.
The 2005 model features a long hood, a short trunk, side scoops, bucket seats and dual-lighted analog gauges in the dash -- the first radical makeover for the 40-year-old muscle car since 1995 and its first platform change since 1979.
Burkitt, 17, reserved a Mustang at Maroone Ford in August. He had been longingly eyeing the 2005 Mustang since seeing it in car magazines and at auto shows.
`THE RETRO LOOK'
''I just love the retro look,'' he said, wearing a T-shirt featuring a 1965 Mustang.
The mineral-gray GT with red-leather interior is a reward from his parents for doing well in school and ``staying out of trouble.''
The Mustang is Burkitt's first car. The black Mustang GT that Mitch Weinberg drove away Tuesday is about his 100th, including at least a dozen Mustangs. When the Cooper City resident saw the 2005 model, he had to have it.
''To have the retro styling with the modern technology is what sold me on it,'' said Weinberg, president of a commercial aviation support company. ``They did it right.''
Mustang lovers and car critics both seem to agree.
''It's an excellent mixture of styling cues that are reminiscent of classic Mustangs,'' said Dave Siegel, who heads the Fort Lauderdale Mustang Club, a group of about 150 fans. ``I'm looking into the availability as we speak.''
His collection of five Mustangs includes an original, commonly referred to as ``the '64 ½.''
''I think they did a great job of reengineering the vehicle,'' said John Stoll, associate editor for Ward's Auto World in Detroit. ``They did what they had to do to keep it affordable. That's the key. If it's not accessible, then you might as well not build a Mustang.''
Sticker prices range from just under $20,000 for a V-6 to more than $26,000 for a V-8 GT version with 300 horsepower, excluding extras.
Ford hopes the Mustang and other new vehicles, like the Five Hundred Sedan and Freestyle, will reverse its slide in sales.
Sales of Ford vehicles fell 7.2 percent in the third quarter, according to Bloomberg News calculations based on Autodata Corp. sales reports. Ford's share of the U.S. market in September was 19.7 percent -- its lowest in 23 years -- Bloomberg reported.
Ford has relied on incentives to sell cars, but it's offering no inducements with the Mustang, at least not initially.
Working in Ford's favor is the dearth of competition for the Mustang, said David Lucas, a vice president with Autodata, an industry consulting firm in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. General Motors ceased production of the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, the Mustang's main rivals, a few years ago when demand tailed off.
Ford isn't just relying on Mustang's revamped look to draw buyers. In one television ad set to appear soon, a farmer clears a cornfield to make way for a racetrack.
Emerging from the cornstalks -- la ''Shoeless'' Joe Jackson in the baseball film Field of Dreams -- is McQueen's Lt. Frank Bullitt character. The farmer tosses the keys to a silver Mustang GT to Bullitt, who takes it for a spin around the track.
AutoNation's Jackson believes the new Mustang will be a hit with car buyers.
''This really evokes an emotional response,'' he said. ``And you need that today because consumers have so many choices.''