There's no doubt that the 2011 Ford Mustang is an impressive performer, but is it a game-changer?
Well, let's start with what should be a given: Barring an automotive miracle of some sort, vehicles powered by petroleum-based fuels are going to have to make big-time efficiency gains in the very near future. The new CAFE regulations may have their share of loopholes and technicalities and what have you, but there's no getting around the fact that automakers' fleets are going to have to get significantly better gas mileage starting in 2012. And I think the new Mustang V-6 is going to show the way.
Hybrids, Diesels Still a Small Fraction of the Industry
As of now, the only real options to your basic gasoline-powered internal combustion engine are hybrids and diesels, neither of which sell in quantities large enough to make much of a difference to the fuel-efficiency bottom line of most automakers.
Hybrid sales in 2009 accounted for under 3 percent of all new-vehicle sales in the U.S., but the Toyota Prius was responsible for almost 140,000 of those purchases, more than all other hybrids combined. The second-place hybrid was the Toyota Camry, good for just 22,890 sales in 2009, and the only other hybrids that sold more than 10,000 units last year were the Honda Insight (20,570), Ford Fusion (15,550) and Honda Civic (15,120).It's much the same story for diesels. Although German automakers like Volkswagen, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are putting a lot of effort behind getting U.S. drivers into their diesel products, the results aren't exactly paying off. At Volkswagen, for example, diesel versions of the VW Golf, VW Jetta, and VW Touareg account for about 25-30 percent of those vehicles' sales, which equates to roughly 30,000 units. Obviously, U.S. buyers are still having trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of environmentally friendly diesel engines.
As for EVs (electric vehicles), well, just keep in mind that neither the Chevrolet Volt nor the Nissan Leaf has actually made it into production yet, and when they do, it won't be in especially large numbers. GM is looking to manufacture less than 10,000 Volts in its first year on the market, and while Nissan is more optimistic'”the plan is to be building 500,000 Leafs globally by 2012'”even this automaker thinks it will take until at least 2020 before EVs represent more than 10 percent of the global vehicle fleet.
Ford Mustang V-6 Rings Up 305 hp, 31 mpg
This means it will be those plain-old gas engines'”albeit with brand-new powertrain technologies'”doing most of the work in improving fuel efficiency for the time being. Of course, that's not the hard part: New tech packages like Ford's EcoBoost and Chrysler/Fiat's Multiair can help do the job, but the difficulty has long been getting U.S. consumers to value these advances.
Which is where the 2011 Ford Mustang V-6 comes in. With this car'”the industry's first production model to top both 30 mpg highway and 300 hp'”the Blue Oval is putting fuel-efficiency up-front and center in selling one of the most exciting cars on the road. And more importantly, it's getting the competition to respond.
Comparing the 2011 Mustang V-6 to a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro with the same number of cylinders, the Ford line is 305 horses and 31 mpg highway, while that Chevy goes 304 and 29. Needless to say, Chevy engineers aren't happy campers right now. But specs on the 2011 Camaro are due soon, and rumor has it that the folks at the Bow-tie division are set on upping the ante once again.
And make no mistake, they have to. Ford threw down ye olde gauntlet here, and if Chevy doesn't respond by at least matching the Mustang's numbers, it's going to seem as if GM can't get the job done.
Chevrolet Camaro, Other Rivals Must Catch Up
Certainly, the prospect of a muscle-car arms race that centers on mpg as well as mph would be a very good thing for the industry, too. The Mustang and the Camaro are two of the most high-profile high-performance products on sale in the U.S. today; the effect of watching these two cars battle it out for fuel-efficiency bragging rights is sure to boost interest in EPA ratings in a way that a similar contest between the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze, for example, simply can't.
The situation at Dodge is especially intriguing, because Chrysler has recently started production on its new high-efficiency V-6 engine, one that might make a nice fit inside the Challenger. And what better way for the Dodge to leap back into relevance than by putting up better numbers than the Mustang or Camaro in its next iteration?
Remember, it's one thing to bring out a new mid-size sedan that perhaps isn't best-in-class in literally every measure, but for the Mustang and Camaro and their ilk, it's all about the numbers. And making those numbers at least a little bit about fuel efficiency is a major accomplishment for the Mustang.