Ford recently flew me to Dearborn, Michigan for a tour of their headquarters. Not just a factory tour, though: this was a tour through some of the labs involved in bringing the new 2015 Ford Mustang to life.
Now, I love cars -- pretty much all of them, actually. But I have a real soft spot for the Ford Mustang. So this "making of" tour of the all-new for 2015 Mustang was sort of a bucket list item I didn't even know I could put on my list.
During my two days at Ford HQ, each department shared some of the challenges and successes in developing the new Mustang for its 50th year of production. What came out loud and clear was the passion they have for the car and their role in making it a reality.
Every great car starts with a great design. When we entered the design studio, many of the car's early inspirations were laid out in front of us. Earlier Mustangs, Steve McQueen, a prowling cat, and a fist "punching through." The early designs coming from this inspiration were there, as well as the "themes" of the near-final designs, showing how the team had whittled the designs down to a small number that looked like varying stages of evolution of the current car.
Also in the room were the final, full-sized clay models of the inside and outside of the car. We were walked through the design process by the lead designers and unsurprisingly, their goal seemed to be to make a new car that was unmistakably Mustang. But capturing 50 years of heritage while pushing the car into the future is no small task.
Outside, the new car is wider, lower, and more sophisticated. Although new creases and kinks have found their way onto the 2015 model, the car feels clean and fresh. Part of freshness is a result of the minimal badging on the car. The faux fuel cap on the trunk is gone, replaced by a single pony or "GT”. Nowhere does the new car say “Mustang" on it. And why should it? One look, and you know what it is.
Inside, the designers’ aircraft inspiration for the interior is highlighted by aviation-style toggles for drive modes, hazard signals, steering feel, and traction control. On the clear, clean instruments the speedometer is labeled with “Ground Speed," just for fun. Here too, the car is unmistakably Mustang, except that it no longer comes standard with excuses for cheap plastics and 1990s VCR-like design.
A single "wing" of real aluminum runs the length of the dash, and really catches your eye when you see it in person. The gauges and buttons are all specific to Mustang. The Mustang may be affordable, but it doesn't feel cheap.
The colour and materials team spoke to us enthusiastically about the 10 colours of the new Mustang. Responsible for wrapping the car’s inside and outside in the right hues, hides, and cloths, these folks are the Mustang's tailors.
Core colours have to remain, they told us. Black, silver, white, and a couple of reds are available, but the the team also pulled in a few new colours based on current trends and the Mustang's history. Guard green, for example, picks up on Steve McQueen's Bullit mustang from 1968, but tweaks it in order to modernize the car. The colour crew - all women - are proud of the colours they select and work with. They know one of the 10 choices is going to make you want the car, because colour is, after all, a huge part of what draws us to a vehicle.
Inside, the materials the team selected have all had a quality upgrade over the previous Mustang models. Despite the Mustang's low entry-level price point, leathers, fabrics, stitching, and real materials, like aluminum, make the cabin feel premium.
As it turns out, light is an interesting variable in the development of a car. Inside a special lab, inhabited by a team of lighting experts, the wide variety of lighting scenarios the Mustang will experience are modelled and studied. They determine here if there will be glare or reflections from the sun that may distract the driver. They provide feedback to the designers on what materials and shapes will ensure the Mustang will be easy on the eyes, literally.
This team is also in charge of making sure the interior and exterior lighting is consistent and effective. To accomplish that, their lab has the ability to recreate the lighting levels of any time of day, and even simulate sunshine from any place in the world. Ever thought about the fact that the sun shines differently at the equator than it does in Canada? Me neither. But these peeps do; it's their job.
Wheat straw, soy beans, old money, t-shirt and denim clippings, and even wood are all things Ford's chemists are mixing into the plastics, foams, and fabrics of Ford's cars to make them more environmentally friendly.
Canadian wheat straw is used in the Ford Flex, which is built in Oakville, Ontario. The straw, which is a waste product in the production of wheat flour, is sourced locally, saving shipping costs and fuel. The straw is lighter than the traditional glass fibres used to reinforce plastics, which makes the resulting car better on gas. Add the fact that plants breathe in carbon dioxide, which is then sequestered in the plastics and they're even reducing the carbon footprint of the car. Result: full of win.
Wheat straw is a more recent example, and it all started with soy. More and more of Ford's cars - including the Mustang - are being built with foam containing soy bean oil in place of petroleum oils. Approximately 1.5 million pounds of petroleum oil are being replaced with the oil squeezed out of excess soy beans.
People like these are helping to save the planet one edamame at a time.
This lab blew my mind! We entered a completely empty room and were told there was a full sized 2015 Mustang in the middle of the room.
Though you couldn't see it with the naked eye, once you don a virtual reality headset and a Mustang appeared. We could walk around it, sit inside it, even peer behind the car's body panels to see the components inside.
This Mustang, you see, was built bolt by bolt and part by part, out of digital parts. The same digital parts that are the blueprints for the actual, physical car. This tool allows the designers and engineers to see a car before it's actually built. They can tweak the car's design to make sure that when the real thing hits the production line, it all fits together as it should.
Using this virtual reality setup, you can even experience the mustang in a variety of environments: night, rain, and bright sunshine, to name a few. Walking around the virtual Mustang, rendered in this level of detail, is just like doing so in real life. The only thing you can't do is touch it.
Ford recognizes the new Mustang has broad appeal. Sure, they know who the die-hard fans are, and they make sure they are well-served. But they also know the world is changing. Women are becoming a big part of Mustang culture and Ford is spending a LOT of time getting women to think about Mustang.
In fact, four of the people on the tour were judges for the Women's World Car of the Year, an award judged solely by women. They were invited as part of Ford's effort to put the Mustang on their nominee list. Having won the award last year for the Focus Ecoboost 1.0L, they are hoping to win it again.
Nothing calls out Ford's commitment to the female customer than their recent collaboration with OPI nail polishes. At first that may seem like a superficial attempt to draw women to the Mustang brand, but you may change your mind when you find out that, along sight the many women engineers and designers on the Mustang team, the person in charge of marketing the Mustang is a woman. You won’t just see women in Mustang commercials as the passenger, you’ll see them positioned as buyers:
Add the marketing team's work with Lucky Brand Jeans and a variety of designers who've released limited edition Mustang-inspired T-shirts (available at gilt.com) and you’ll notice that the Mustang brand isn’t as "mullets and moustaches” as you may have thought.
Even if they had let us drive the Mustang for the entire 30 hours I was in Dearborn, it wouldn’t have been enough. They told us they tried to make this the best Mustang ever, and I think they nailed it. The Mustang, in both the big 5.0 litre V8 and small 2.3 litre turbo are wicked quick. They’ll push you back in your seat, spin the back wheels, and leave you wishing your destination was just a few more miles away.
I didn't get to live with the Mustang for a week, which is the kind of time I usually need to fully assess a car. I didn't get to test out the rear seats for the kids, try a couple days of commuting in it, or take it grocery shopping. Most importantly, I didn't get Alexandria's feedback. My wife knows cars, and when they're good, she's passionate about them. Her seal of approval is very important to me.
I also know that if Alexandria falls in love with a car, there's a good chance we'll end up buying one. The last car she fell in love with was a Mustang. A 2013 Mustang Boss 302, to be exact. She loved it so much that she's been asking for one almost daily for our 10th wedding anniversary, which is now just a year away. Unfortunately, the Boss 302 isn't available anymore (sorry, dear). But I'm happy to report that my brief time with the new Mustang was long enough to convince me that once Alexandria drives it, she'll fall in love all over again, and one will find its way into our driveway. Coincidentally, the traditional 10th anniversary gift is aluminum, which I know now is prominantly featured on the dash of the new Mustang. How perfect is that?
Most of us have a Mustang memory. I, for one, had one of my first stick shift lessons in a 1988 Mustang LX 5.0L. Do you have a Mustang memory? Share it in the comments. One lucky commenter with be sent a "Pony Pack" of OPI nail polishes. If you don't have a specific memory, simply visit the Ford Canada site and tell me which of the 10 colours you would choose.
And we're giving away a "Pony Pack" of OPI nail polishes! To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below and tell me your favourite Mustang memory, or, if you don't have one, which of the ten Mustang colours you would choose. You have until 11:59 p.m. EST Monday November 17th to enter. You must be a YMC member and please be sure you've registered your email address in our commenting system so we can contact you if you win.
Yummy Rules and Regs: You must be a YummyMummyClub.ca member to win. Click to sign up! It's free and filled with perks. One comment per
member. Entries accepted until Monday November 17th at 11:59 p.m. EST. Contest open to Canadian residents (excluding Quebec). Winners will be picked using www.random.org. See full contest rules.
Disclosure: Okay, so Ford sent me to Dearborn. They paid for the whole trip. This included airfare, one breakfast, two lunches, a really nice dinner, and a stay at the Henry Hotel. I got a pen, 2 pins, 2 dinky cars and a set of OPI nail polish, which I gave to my kids. I had to use of a couple days of my vacation for the trip, which is pretty dear to me. I also paid for my own parking at the airport. So, I dunno, I guess I'd say it was a wash... but I thought you ought to know.