Ford Performance

Nov 30, 2009

Ford performance begins and ends with the Mustang. Certainly, Ford has multiple models that are capable of achieving high performance. However, none do it with the style, sentiment and swagger of the Mustang. When enthusiasts think of Ford performance, they think of the Mustang.

While high fuel costs have dampened many buyers’ performance cravings and focused their attention on efficiency, the Ford Mustang continues to sell well. The resurgence created by the introduction of the ’05 Mustang has helped to carry the company through these tough times, and as we discuss the market for Ford Performance, that’s as good of a place as any to start.

’05 Mustang Impact

When the new-old design for the Mustang came out, it kicked off a trend of new muscle cars with nostalgic design elements. Rumors began to spread that GM was thinking of a new Camaro with a design inspired by its classic form. Dodge came out with the Charger and then the Challenger, cherished vehicles well received by their base of supporters.

“The successes of the Ford Mustang pretty much drug everyone else along to join in the fray. It was definitely the catalyst,” says Brian Murphy of BBK Performance in Temecula, Calif.

Some say additional updated versions of the old heroes are still coming-”though $4-a-gallon and higher-priced gasoline may have something to do with this. However, if they do come, it’s likely to be in limited production runs. The vehicles will probably be purchased by baby boomers willing and able to pay the dealership’s sticker at a minimum, and if the stories are true, as much as $10,000 or $20,000 over. It’ll be nice to occasionally see them out on the road again, but occasionally is all the more often these weekend warriors are likely to be seen.

While GM and Dodge have accomplished something with these updated legends, they have not accomplished what Ford did with the Mustang. More impressive even than its design and attractive horsepower is the sheer volume of Mustangs sold to a wide range of enthusiastic customers.

“What happened with the new generation is that you’ve got a wider mix of ages getting into it. Because of the retro style, it brought in a lot of the baby-boomers buying them who wanted to play with them. And, you’ve got young guys that wanted them, so it opened the market up,” says Murphy.

Other updated classics will sell, and many of them may sell well above sticker price. But, that means they’re going to an affluent crowd. It’s not likely we’ll see young 20-somethings cruising in them on weekend nights, and they certainly won’t be daily drivers.

Murphy thinks the Mustang has been user-friendly in the aftermarket, and that’s a big part of why it has remained so popular.

“They kind of welcome the aftermarket. They have Ford Racing, and they promoted their own aftermarket sales as well as a lot of parts from other manufacturers in the aftermarket,” says Murphy.

Commenting on the ’05 Mustang’s impact, Jamie Allison of Ford Racing in Dearborn, Mich., says, “It has been the single biggest act that has transformed the performance business here at Ford Performance, for a couple of reasons. One, the car harkens back to those early days. Also, because it was reminiscent of the old car, power was invoked, and people wanted to modify those cars.”

Ford Racing also made a conscience decision with the ’05 to re-enter the car in sanctioned road racing. They created road racing programs around it, which Allison says has been a boon for their business.

“The whole racecar business has a direct link to the introduction of the new car. It didn’t exist before that new car,” remembers Allison. Up to that point, says Allison, only Porsche offered ready-to-race cars. But unlike Porsche, these racecars are available from the dealership.

“They’re not street legal, but buyers can order them from the parts counter at their local Ford dealership,” says Allison.

As for their impact on his business, Matt Snow of Snow Performance in Woodland Park, Colo., doesn’t hold back, noting sales for the car, “have just taken off.”

Snow says it’s similar to the old Fox-body in terms of popularity, but better. He notes that the old Fox-body market was primarily made up of younger guys.

“Everybody is buying these new ones. Young people, older people, it’s kind of a car for everybody,” says Snow.

He adds that is easily evident to anyone who has attended Mustang events over the last few years.

“There was just a big event in Steamboat here in Colorado: the annual Rocky Mountain Mustang Roundup. In ’05, three years ago, we had one of the new Mustangs, and there were four of them in a show of 600 cars. The next year, I think it went up to 20. I bet half of the cars that were there this year were of the newer style. The car has been so well received by the whole Mustang crowd, it’s incredible,” says Snow.

The impact of the Mustang hasn’t been the same for all companies. Exemplifying the range of the spectrum, Brad Grissom of SCT in Longwood, Fla., says the Mustang had little effect on their sales. At the other end, Joe Granatelli of Granatelli Motor Sports in Oxnard, Calif., says, “We kind of reinvented ourselves. When we got our hands on one of the first cars, we designed 35 new suspension parts for the vehicle.”

Ford Trends

With many Mustangs out on the road, accompanied by plenty of other Ford vehicles with performance potential, there are a few trends taking place. To no one’s surprise, at least one of those trends is a result of high fuel costs.

Murphy says that sales for the V8 have slowed some, while sales for the V6 have picked up impressively. The V6 has the same look as the V8, and it has much the same potential for aftermarket upgrades, so buyers can still modify them for efficient performance. Many enthusiasts, especially the younger ones, says Murphy, are looking at high fuel prices and deciding to go with the more fuel efficient vehicle. That’s a trend Murphy expects to continue.

Granatelli has seen trends in a similar vein. “I think the trend right now is that guys are looking to make a little extra horsepower, but without sacrificing mileage. For example, we offer different kits, and a guy calls and asks, ‘How much power will it make?’ We tell him it’ll add 25 horsepower, and then he asks, ‘How much mileage will I lose?’ We tell him, ‘We can give you a system that will provide a 21 horsepower increase, and it’ll actually improve mileage because it requires less throttle pressure to maintain the same speed.’ Most guys are opting for the three or four less horsepower in lieu of maintaining or increasing status quo on their mileage. A year ago, guys, we’re saying, ‘I’ll pay to lose the extra two miles per gallon if it gains me a few extra horsepower.'”

Grissom has noticed other changes. “The biggest trend we see is the increased demand for specialty tuning products, which is a result of the increased complexity of the new vehicle engine and transmission control modules,” he says.

Similar trends have also caught the attention of Allison. “Increasingly, there are a lot of electronics replacing mechanical actuations. There’s drive-by wire in almost every car. The Mustang has electronic throttle control, so there goes the old throttle cable; it’s now a potentiometer, a little electronic device.”

Allison goes on to say that with the increased use of electronics in the power train, primarily for emissions control, people increasingly can’t replace parts.

“People want plug-‘n-play,” says Allison.

Another trend Allison has noticed, up until the last few weeks, was that people still wanted power. “We’ve not seen an appreciable decline in the interest in power adders, whether it’s superchargers or something else. But, I think the last couple of months have changed peoples’ perspective on things because it’s been such a dramatic shift.”

Allison isn’t the only noticing trends having to do with power adders. Snow says he has seen a strong trend toward positive displacement blowers and more turbos.

“The Mustang market used to be almost exclusively centrifugal superchargers, with a few turbos and Kenne Belles. But now, it seems like all of the OEMs are going to that with the roots or Eaton-style blower, and all of that stuff is going crazy. The Mustang market has really embraced these positive displacement blowers. So, we’ve adapted, and we’ve got a specific kit for those positive displacement blowers,” says Snow.

Coming back to the engines those blowers are going on, Murphy adds, “What we found was, by the time right before the ’05 came out, it got to a point where our best-sellers-”which are things like cold-air kits, throttle bodies, under-drive pulleys-”the part numbers for the mod-motors (everybody differentiates Ford parts now by the 5.0L marketplace: the push-rod motor, and then the ‘mod-motor’ or the modular motors being everything from ’96 up) caught up in popularity to the 5.0L. We sell just as much mod-motor stuff as we do for the 5.0L market, which took awhile, but it eventually progressed and those bolt-on parts became popular with that market. Now, the ’05 to ’08 market, which is called the S197, that has blossomed to where it’s as big of a market as either of those other two categories.”

Fuel’s Impact On Ford Performance

Commenting further on the impact of fuel on Ford performance, Ford Racing’s Allison says, “We have seen many signals of that as a company and as an industry for many months and the last few years. But what’s happened over the last eight weeks-¦That has created a dramatic shift of people’s perspective with oil prices jumping like they have been. That got people rethinking everything related to automotive,” says Allison.

He continues, “As a performance company, we’re taking a harder look to see what we can do to give people the feeling of performance but yet try to address their fuel economy priorities. You’d have to be living in a cave to have not put that in your plans.”

Granatelli has seen sales for some parts improve, while others have declined. “The price of gas has basically increased our mileage modular products and decreased our extreme duty components. We offer performance coils that improve mileage, and we have coils that offer sheer power. Most of our customers right now are buying the products that give better mileage,” he says.

Companies such as SCT are also in a good position to make sales to consumers looking to add efficient performance. “SCT offers specialty products for Ford vehicles that are designed to improve fuel economy by as much as 10 percent or more,” says Grissom. “And, we have seen an increase in sales of these products to large fleets who have mostly Ford vehicles.”

Murphy points out that the cars are fairly fuel-efficient, at 22-23 mpg. “It’s not like they’re gas guzzlers.”

He goes on to say that while some of his big distributors have seen drops, he attributes that more to saturation. They actually have seen a lot of growth with a lot of other customers.

“I think there’s a big shift right now in the marketplace. A lot of online retailers are growing, and it’s shifting sales from the traditional avenues, but it hasn’t affected us that much. What we have seen are the V6 parts for Mustangs really taking off. More and more guys are modifying the V6s because they’re inexpensive and they get better gas mileage,” says Murphy.

Murphy adds there are other interesting developments to await. First cautioning to wait and see how it plays out with CAFÉ, he notes that Ford is already planning their, EcoBoost V6.

“It’s a turbo-charged V6 that has around 300 horsepower. They’re going to offer that around 2010 or 2011. I think you’re going to see limited editions of the big motors in all of these cars, and then mainstream models will have smaller displacement, turbo-charged, six-cylinders. That’s kind of the trend with what’s happening. Even GM is talking about that with their new Camaro. Initially, it’s coming out with the LS3 and the V6, but they know that they’ve got to adapt. They’re even testing their little 260 horsepower 4-cylinder-that’s in the Solstice-in the Camaro. They need to try to meet CAFÉ on the volume vehicles.”

Ford Forecasting

Where will Ford performance be a few weeks, months and years from now? No one can say for sure, but the predictions tend to portray a marketplace further segmented.

“Since the late-’80s, the market’s become more and more segmented. There are a lot more niches; just look at all of the consumer magazines. It used to be four or five titles, and now it’s probably 50 different titles. The fact is it’s become more niche,” says Murphy.

He notes that though the Focus never caught on, it was probably because gas was cheap. “Now, they’re bringing the European version of the Focus to the states, which is a more performance-oriented version. They’re going to convert one of their truck plants in Mexico into a car plant, and they’re going to produce their new world car, which is the Festiva. I think that’s going to be the next market, honestly. We’re going to continue to see the domestic stuff do well, but very niche focused,” says Murphy.

Whatever may come, for now, the Ford market is very much alive. It’s dominant in all of the drag-racing series and it’s doing well in drifting, NMRA. If you go to any typical track anywhere in the United States on the weekend, you’re going to see a lot of Mustangs.

“That’s just how it is,” says Murphy. “The late-model Mustang became the ’69 Camaro of the modern day. It really took off. That’s why it’s exciting to see this new Camaro coming out, because it’s going to give the GM faithful a shot in the arm and create some competition between them-just in time for CAFÉ to ruin it all,” says Murphy.