baggage

2014 marks the Mustang’s 50th anniversary on sale. Yet few would argue that it’s been a smooth ride, and Ford’s decision to launch the new Mustang to coincide with the anniversary highlights everything that’s wrong with the brand.

Debuted in 1964, the original Mustang was a pony car, not a muscle car. Then Carroll Shelby’s GT 350 came along and redefined the Mustang brand. That’s about all the Ford wants you to remember. They would rather you ignore the fact that the third generation Mustang was on sale from 1979 to 1993 or that new sixth generation is the first to get independent rear suspension. Basically, Ford has been lazy with the Mustang, and now they want a pat on the back for dragging the brand through the mud for the better part of a half century.

Quit the charade

Quit the charade

If Ford had cared for the Mustang like Porsche has cared for the 911, which coincidentally celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, then the Mustang would be something to truly cherish. Instead, the brand feels hollow. At its inception, it may have resonated with people but now it just feels burdened with decades of neglect. The biggest hurdle facing the new Mustang is that it’s a Mustang.

Sports cars cannot rest on branding alone, especially bad branding, and the Mustang has become the poster child for rental cars, often dressed in garish colors, as opposed to the enthusiast’s choice. There’s little racing history in the Mustang’s bloodline, let alone simply being known as a competent sports car. Legitimacy breeds desirability, and the Mustang has virtually none.

Ford can make great sports cars (Ford GT), but the Mustang brand is holding them back. They won’t kill the Mustang simply because they’ve already invested so much into it. Keeping the brand alive is the safe move, and safe is rarely good for a sports car’s image.

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doesn’t translate

“Crash” is the most popular accompanying search term when one Googles F1 driver Romain Grosjean’s name, and it pretty much sums up his 2012 season. He did a lot of it. So much that he got banned for one race. But when you see how he utterly dominated GP2, a stepping stone to F1, it’s hard to blame anyone for giving him a shot. Watch and be amazed.

investment status

While I appreciate that people restore vintage sports cars, often to a degree that exceeds the car’s original showroom condition, it’s a shame that most of them never see the open road in their restored glory. I remember talking with the owner of the cleanest marble grey 930 Turbo I’ve ever seen and his stated anxiety upon unloading his car from the trailer and actually having to drive it 30 feet to park at his spot for the car show.

But for those lucky vintage car owners brave enough to race on the track, it gets no better than the Goodwood Revival. Follow the link for an idea of how awesome vintage car ownership can be….minus the soundtrack, spectator costumes, and toddler racing.

Goodwood 2012

paper tiger

Seems a little premature to be donning the sacred Martini livery

I can’t recall any car having such a high profile development cycle with journalists getting ride-alongs in test mules and photo shoots with preproduction cars in flashy livery. I also can’t figure out why anyone would want to buy this car.

Objectively, the 918’s performance is staggering thanks to a hybrid drivetrain capable of producing 770hp and 78 mpg. Unfortunately, these figures are mutually exclusive. You can’t use 770hp and return 78 mpg. Fuel efficiency and performance occupy opposite ends of the spectrum.

The 78 mpg rating is based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), a standardized test used to determine a car’s mpg figure, and the 918’s hybrid system is designed to optimize engine output specifically for the demands of the NEDC test. This tactic, known as cycle beating, requires 918 to be ladened with over 500 lbs of batteries and electric motors so to spend as much time as possible in full electric mode while undergoing NEDC testing. Even worse, electric mode limits the car’s performance to a 90 mph top speed and approximately 200 hp. It’s a heavy price to pay for a mpg rating that owners will never see in the real world, let alone care about in the first place.

GT3 R Hybrid’s flywheel system

Porsche’s own GT3 R Hybrid, the car they developed specifically to race against conventional gasoline powered race cars, eschews batteries in favor of a flywheel storage system. The head of Porsche’s motorsport R&D stated, “for performance applications, a battery recharges too slowly” which doesn’t serve to bolster the 918’s credentials. If Porsche built the 918 with a flywheel system, I would be in full support. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with the book smart equivalent.

The 918 draws some striking parallels to the Bugatti Veyron, coincidentally one of the least fuel efficient cars on the road today. Like the 918, the Veyron was devised around a set of massive but pointless performance metrics and then painfully massaged into production. Fortunately, those performance goals (1,001 bhp and a 250+ mph top speed) were complimentary, and the Veyron is very good at going fast as a result. But it’s also completely useless, even by supercar standards. To my knowledge, not a single private owner has reached the car’s top speed, and even fewer would argue that its chassis and grip are on par with its straight line performance. It can break traction in a straight line in 4th gear with AWD!

The 918 runs the risk of sharing the same fate as the Veyron, a very expensive fashion accessory.

I fear similar criticism for the 918 but for the opposite reason. While the Veyron was too focused on speed at the expense of all else, the 918 runs the risk of alienating everyone by being too much of compromise. Its contradictory performance goals spreading its real world performance too thin. No one is going to buy the 918 to limp around town in crippling electric mode just to get thumbs up from Chevy Volt drivers, and conversely, the same could be said for driving a 3,800 lb supercar with only 550 hp when the batteries are drained.

The sad truth is that the 918 is about creating brand recognition, not real world performance. Designed to hit as many buzzwords and performance metrics as possible, the car’s real target audience is everyone who doesn’t have to live with its glaring shortfalls and can just admire it from a distance. It’s a halo car, not a supercar.