The Mustang is just one of 25 new models Ford will launch in the next five years
Henry Ford's great grandson, Bill, who today is executive chairman of the family firm, is his family's principal Mustang-lover.
He has a collection of "less than 20" of them, and learned to drive in one. Speaking exclusively to Autocar at the new Ford Mustang's European debut, he talked about his love for the car, its significance in our market, and his expectations for Ford's future here.
Were you involved in the new Mustang's creation?
You bet I was. But I had to hold back to a degree so as not to interrupt the creative process of our designers. I saw about five proposals, some a little too retro and some that pushed the envelope a little too far. But in the end I think we did a good job.
What do like most about the car?
I'm happiest about its very nice interior. In the past we've done great sounds and great shapes, but the interior has been a weakness. The other big things that we've given the car are independent rear suspension, and we've done a lot of the work on the front end and the brakes.
Do you have memories of the original car's launch in 1964?
Sure I do. I was seven at the time, and my dad was forever bringing home cool stuff, but I remember this new sports car in particular. I spent a lot of time crawling through the car, and of course I wanted him to get one. I can remember sketching it and taking the drawing to school, but I was never good at drawing...
What did you think of the low-powered Mustang II models from the oil shock era?
I was never a fan. They weren't at all like the car we'd been building. But no-one knew what was ahead at that time - perhaps we were going to have to drive cars like that in the future. That certainly wasn't a high-spot in Mustang history.
You've said that Ford will be even more influential on the motoring scene in its second century than it has been in its first - did you mean that?
Well, I definitely expect it to be. If I look at the problems we're going to have to face, there are two main problems - environmental issues, and problems with urban mobility. When I first started talking about these things people thought I was crazy because they felt they detracted from the joy of car ownership. But I really believe we can solve the problems. Technology will provide the answers, if we keep searching. I'm convinced of that. Go back to my great grandfather's view that mobility drives personal freedom: that principle is as relevant as ever.
What will constitute success for the Mustang in Europe?
It's not a matter of volume, but reputation. Of course, we will want to sell respectable numbers, but what we want to demonstrate, with what we've done with the suspension, steering and brakes, is that this American icon can be an enjoyable, responsive car in Europe.
Can you summarise why you love the Mustang so much?
I think it's because they're attainable, yet still special. Many people can afford one, yet driving them has a special quality. And when you're driving in one, people always seem to want to talk to you, to comment all the time on your car. I drive my Mustangs all the time - I don't believe any car is there just to be looked at - and I always find it rewarding.
On Europe, do you truly believe the business is in recovery now?
If we hadn't been through what we've experienced in the US, I might not now feel confident to say so, but I believe we're on the right road in Europe. We've reduced production 18 per cent to meet our forecast future demand, and the demand is starting to roll again and the deals we're doing are based on firmer prices. It's not easy, but we're seeing reliable signs of recovery.
Given your hard times in the company, the recovery must give you a lot of pleasure...
Well, it wasn't all bad. I became chairman in 1999 and we had some good years, then I became CEO in 2002 and things kept rolling. In 2005 I could see the tidal wave was coming - that the market was heading into trouble, and I was chairman, president, CEO and COO. At the time, I went to the board and told them I needed help. That was when I went out and got Alan Mulally...
Alan's departure has been much discussed. Do you know yet when he'll leave?
No, not yet. We'll decide together. We certainly don't look forward to losing him. But I couldn't be happier with the way things are running in the company. Whenever it is needed, we have a great team ready to go.