At Ford Motor Company, there are individuals who possess insights into the latest Mustang product and its lineage. While Ford keeps details behind a thick blue curtain, leaving enthusiasts to speculate, Jim Owens has been able to transcend the veil and translate corporate to consumer, especially when it comes to why the Mustang embodies its essence. This is hardly surprising, given his extensive tenure as the Mustang brand manager.
With the imminent arrival of Ford’s seventh-generation Mustang in 2024, Owens was once again a main point of interest for me. At the 2023 Carlisle Ford Nationals, I made my way towards the Blue Oval tent for a pre-arranged interview. My intent was to focus the interview on the 2024 Mustang, so why not jump into a Mustang Dark Horse to do so? After all, the summers in Carlisle bear a resemblance to Texas summers: hot. As temperatures hovered around 96 degrees Fahrenheit, the prospect of cold air and new car smell was inviting.
As I settled into the cabin, with an additional few inches of beard length and waist size since our previous interview, a cascade of text messages greeted me. Another Ford employee had inadvertently left his phone connected to the SYNC system. As messages streamed in, we exchanged banter, quipping, “Jack, this is the danger of leaving your iPhone connected to your car,” before hitting send. As our laughter died down, it was time to get onto business.
Ford Muscle (FM): I think we are all excited that we have a seventh-generation Mustang, and the fact that it remained an internal combustion engine is awesome. Knowing that the EV market is rising and some might say on the horizon, how formidable was the task of reconciling these two distinct pathways?
Jim Owens (JO): At the time, we weren’t aware that our competitors were announcing their exits. Our global product development system spans many, many months, and we’ve always known about the EV side, with the Lightning and Mach E. We were determined to balance our carbon footprint through a mixture, as we do not purchase credits. The internal combustion engine component has always been part of our plan, and stating that we’ve developed a new Gen-4 Coyote engine indicates our long-term involvement. A new engine isn’t something you declare merely 14 months before Job 1 by stating ‘we’re swapping the architecture.’ So, it’s always been planned that way, we know that this sportscar segment still has a love for the internal combustion engine.
Now we have the Mustang Mach E, and whether you believe in it or not, it is a Mustang in its name and its character. It does have four doors and is an SUV, but it’s the electric version of it. For those who want electric options, there is also the Lightning. Those products in the market allow me to diversify our engines. So, in that, they contribute to fleet balancing.
The Mach E GT performance package boasts 480 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque, with a mid 3-second 60-foot time — faster than the old GT500 and approaching the Ford GT. Depending on the driver, I’d bet the Mach E could be quicker. Then we have the GT performance package with MagneRide suspension, Brembo brakes, and performance tires. We are not prioritizing the range of that car.
The seventh-generation plans included developing the Gen-4 Coyote engine, enabling us to generate 480 horsepower with active exhaust, 500 horsepower on Darkhorse. So, as you’re driving and you look at the tachometer, you see the range from 7,000 to 8,000 rpm. We’re harnessing that power, where even in third gear, you still feel it pull past 7,000 rpm — that’s a Coyote above 7,000 RPM. With the dual throttle body and components like the aluminum block and connecting rods, we were able to deliver that horsepower through the internal combustion engine because we recognize the demand in the sports car segment, especially for those in their 30s and under. We aim to provide the choices they desire in this category. We are genuinely proud of how this aligns with and contributes to the Mustang’s legacy.
FM: Which demographic do you observe showing a greater interest in wanting this vehicle?
JO: So, we still don’t have the order information; we currently have the orders in the system, but these are pre-production orders. We can’t access the data until the vehicle is actually sold.
Despite the fact that the younger generation might find it challenging to afford this car due to its increased price, we’re aiming to emphasize the relative performance value. When we discuss the pricing of the S550 with an independent rear suspension, higher-end interior, we’re not claiming it’s inexpensive. Instead, it presents a relative performance value. You can’t find 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque for under 30 grand. With this in mind, we expect to attract a younger audience. Our goal is to create a vehicle that serves as an aspirational symbol for the upcoming generation.
We want to be the seventh-generation equivalent of the poster you would have on your wall. – Jim Owens, Mustang Brand Manager, Ford Motor Company
Even if this isn’t the car they’re going to purchase, we aim to be the equivalent of the poster you would have on your wall for the seventh-generation. Is it going to be your screensaver? Will it be something you share on social media? After all, the Mustang is the most shared vehicle on social media across the planet. If we notice more younger people sharing this on social platforms, that’s how we know we’re drawing these individuals into this and keeping them engaged within the sports car segment.
FM: In terms of aesthetics, when compared to the S550, what specific modifications were implemented to create the overall distinctive and ominous appearance?
JO: All the sheet metal has been revamped, and the cockpit showcases a new design featuring touchscreen with unreal gaming aesthetics. We’ve even integrated elements from the Fox Body era. You can go through track apps and turn on the drift brake and line lock. Notably, the interior has undergone substantial changes, including the removal of the dual eyebrow feature. The dual eyebrow was present across all six generations; initially introduced in Gen-1 due to cost considerations, it later became an interior design signature in subsequent generations. The decision process involved passionate debates among key individuals, including Joel Piaskowski, Chris Walter, Carrie Kennerly, Edwin Krenz, John Richardson and myself. The studio discussions were intense because of our shared passion.
In this case, we aimed to align with the customer’s perspective, emphasizing the driver’s role and prioritizing performance close at hand. Which is why we twisted everything in that direction. When you’re inside the car, it almost feels like you’re naturally oriented this way — this cockpit is where you customize your performance settings. It caters to our focus audience and target customers, serving as their metaphorical Superman or Superwoman cape. These individuals aren’t being selfish; they’re rewarding themselves. This isn’t just your regular 9 to 5 car; it’s your 5-9 car. It’s their stress-relief vehicle and we’ve centered the design around that concept.
This isn’t just your regular 9 to 5 car; it’s your 5 to 9 car. – Jim Owens, Mustang Brand Manager, Ford Motor Company
The digital dash, tailored more toward the younger demographic, offers gauge options that can be customized — choose from three to five gauges or make further adjustments. This personalization defines the experience. You have the capacity to set up six distinct profiles, each of which can be configured based on your preferences. For instance, if I’m feeling frustrated with my boss, I can drive under the underpass, hear the exhaust note, and immediately feel the sports-car experience.
Exterior-wise, this car incorporates elements from every single generation. It’s undeniably Mustang; its presence looks fast standing still. The design is firmly rooted in the heritage and foundation of the previous six generations, yet it possesses a modern edge and a captivating allure that’s bound to captivate a youthful audience. This is the goal Chris and Joel aimed for from the exterior perspective.
Of course, you need to configure the airflow for proper cooling. Take the Dark Horse variant, for example — there’s a transmission cooler, an engine cooler, and a radiator fashioned from a lighter and thinner material. The question becomes: how do you guide the air in, how do you facilitate cooling for the rear axle, especially concerning torsion? Through meticulous considerations and adjustments, you reach a point where the vehicle takes shape. That’s where you notice a slightly lower beltline, slightly broader haunches, and a hood that slopes down. While I’m accustomed to observing the hood vents, you now perceive it moving forward and you’re moving forward with it.
Additionally, there are Easter eggs woven into the design, which consumers will gradually uncover over time. For instance, at the bottom of the window, there’s the Mustang GT emblem, and if you closely examine it, you’ll discover the silhouettes of all six generations of Mustangs. These elements tie back to the rich heritage while still propelling us into the future.
FM: Does the European market play any part in the design of the car?
JO: Mustang has clubs on six of the seven continents, so it is Mustang. It’s not just about what Mustang means in England, Germany, Australia, or America. It is what a Mustang is. This common and core essence remains consistent. Of course, there are some regulatory differences to consider, such as the pedestrian side impact test, which must be incorporated into the design. Moreover, there are considerations for various government requirements, given that the Mustang is exported to over 100 countries.
So, no, the meaning of Mustang doesn’t change. It might be marketed slightly differently, but the essence of Mustang remains uniform across the globe. This has made it the best-selling sports car for 7 of the last 10 years and the best-selling sports coupe of the last decade which reinforces why we pursue this approach.
FM: Do you have plans to establish a product network for the S650 similar to what you’ve done with the FP700 truck?
JO: At Ford Performance, Nick Terzes is leading the charge. He was on the vehicle engineering team and has been part of the Mustang team since the fourth-generation, just like me. He’s now heading the Ford Performance parts division. We plan to extend this effort, but currently he’s waiting for a product freeze, as a tool test car could change and wouldn’t do his team any good. They’re working on something they know is going to happen, so they will be involved like they have been.
The aftermarket for the S650 is going to be unique due to associated regulations that can impact calibration aspects. Our aftermarket team collaborates closely with SEMA Garage to navigate this terrain. Our objective is to ensure that not only the Shelbys, Steedas, and Roushs of the world can continue to modify, but also within specific guidelines. The goal is to strike a balance, and both the SEMA and aftermarket teams are diligently working on defining the scope.
We’ve bolstered the internals, avoiding designing this at the minimum spec. By utilizing more of its displacement, we’ve created a versatile crate engine that’s perfect for customization. It’s not only built for aftermarket tinkering, but it’s also well-suited for pre-titled and customizable options. The intent is to accommodate both avenues.
Leaving An Impression
Unfortunately, a tap on the window signaled the end of Jim’s scheduled time with me. Exiting the Dark Horse, I braced myself for the scorching blast of the Pennsylvania summer sun. While the interview provided insights into the intricacies of S650 development, it was more than that. The car not only delivers a statement but leaves an impression that’s bound to resonate with those who take the wheel. If you’re a fan of Mustangs from any era, I strongly recommend seizing the opportunity to experience it firsthand once they arrive at dealerships. The sentiments that Jim spoke can clearly be felt once you grab the steering wheel and press down on the accelerator.