The Year of the Horse has been a busy one for Ford Motors. Ford simultaneously launched its 2015 Mustang on December 5, 2013 in Dearborn, Michigan; Sydney, Australia; Shanghai, China; Barcelona, Spain; New York; and Los Angeles. Special emphasis was placed on Asia, and on China in particular, where it will be launched for the first time ever since its debut in 1964. There is hope that this push will give Ford more of a foothold in Asian markets, where the Mustang will be serving as an ambassador of U.S. automotive ingenuity.
The Mustang already has an out-sized reputation worldwide. Joe Hinrichs, the head of Ford’s North and South America divisions, stated “People (are) figuring out a way to get it into the countr[ies], even though it is not sold there, which tells you something.” In Asia, the Mustang was among the top five associations that consumers had with the Ford automotive brand, despite it not being sold in those markets.
In April, the new Mustang was displayed at the Beijing Auto Show to much acclaim. The Mustang’s AppLink technology was also displayed on June 2nd at Taipei’s “2014 Computex” tech fair for launch in Taiwan, India and New Zealand in 2015. There are already many people in China who buy into the Mustang’s reputation as the “heart and soul of Ford,” particularly young Chinese entrepreneurs. According to Richard Guo, the founder of the Mustang Club of China, “The feeling of driving a Mustang is crazy freedom, of expecting the unexpected, which suits us.” With this mystique already in place around the Mustang, there is the expectation that it will drive Ford’s automotive sales in China up even further.
It is not just Ford that benefits from more interactions with China and with Asia as a whole. The state of Michigan has been making great strides to improve diplomatic and economic ties with Asia. About 16 percent of Michigan’s exports worldwide went to Asia in 2012, with over a third of those coming from the automotive industry. Chinese investment in Michigan totaled 1 billion dollars in 2012, with 95 percent of that in the automotive industry. In August of this year, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan China Center will lead a delegation of Michigan-based businesses to the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. With predictions of China’s auto market surpassing that of the United States, Germany and Japan combined by 2015, this move could not be timelier for Michigan and its iconic autos. In much of Asia, the Year of the Horse is considered lucky, and Ford’s launch of the Mustang across the region looks poised to prove that notion correct.
Sarah Batiuk is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.