Beijing Motor Show - From Steve McQueen to “The Fast and the Furious”, the Mustang has cruised through American pop culture, but Ford is hoping its snarling sports car will find a new generation of fans as it turns 50 - in China.
Launched in 1964 at an event on top of the Empire State Building, the Mustang quickly became a byword for cool among America's youth, who loved the slick, highly customisable “pony car” that stood out next to their parents' bulky sedans.
Ford took 22 000 orders on the first day, and topped 418 000 in the first year - four times more than expected. Since then, more than 9.2 million have been sold.
THE YEAR OF THE HORSE
When the latest Mustang was driven on stage by CEO Alan Mulally at the Beijing Auto Show on Sunday, its emblem - the galloping free spirit of the American West - struck a chord in the Year of the Horse.
Ford has already proved to be one of the biggest winners in the recent Chinese clamour for urban 4x4s, with sales of its locally-produced Kuga model soaring.
Now it wants to break into the equally crowded sports-car segment.
Shanghai-based analyst Namrita Chow believes name and logo recognition will make or break Mustang in China.
“The Chinese market is very brand-conscious.”
“At the moment, Mustang has no presence in China, so Ford is coming from zero,” she said. “This is a strategy to raise brand-awareness, to prove it has different models to offer than its competitors.”
Trevor Worthington, Ford Asia-Pacific vice-president for product development, thinks the Mustang will resonate with young Chinese and their radically different outlook to the older generation.
“Chinese consumers are looking for iconic experiences,” he said. “This is one of those cars.”
The Mustang already has a cult following in China.
Richard Guo, twentysomething founder of the Mustang Club of China, whose members drive imported versions, represents the kind of consumer Ford hopes to capture.
“Me and my friends, we are self-employed, without anything tying us down,” he said. “The feeling of driving a Mustang is crazy freedom, of expecting the unexpected, which suits us.”
Ford saw its sales in China soar 49 percent in 2013. In the next year, it will add 15 new models to the Chinese marketplace, as part of an aggressive growth strategy taking it far beyond the Mustang's familiar North American territory.
Ford Asia Pacific president David Schoch said: “It's an iconic brand, and we decided that we're gonna take the Mustang global.
“Who knows, in a society with the family still at its heart, but with increasing individualism at least at the level of consumer choices, the Mustang may yet prove to be a galloping success.