Could the Tesla Model S usurp the Mustang as the ultimate American Dream car?
Do gadget cars like the Tesla Model S threaten the popularity of classic American sports cars like the Ford Mustang?
The Ford Mustang is as American as sitcoms, baseball and fast food. From Steve McQueen’s infamous car chase in Bullitt, to modern day appearances in the Need for Speed and The Fast and The Furious franchises, the Ford Mustang is immortalised in public memory as the ultimate all-American car. The Mustang has long been an icon of the American Dream, a car to aspire to own, carrying its own loaded fantasy of hot, dusty highways and the freedom of the open road.
But the America that the Ford Mustang invites us to join is more Wild West than Silicon Valley. With current discussion in Europe around tightening environ mental regulations and transition to electric and hybrid vehicles, gas-guzzlers like the Ford Mustang are starting to look decidedly old-fashioned. It’s worth considering if Europeans still want to live the American Dream behind the wheel of a Ford Mustang? Or does that dream now look more like a Tesla?
It’s hard to ignore the advance of Tesla and the impact the small carmaker from Palo Alto, California has had on the automotive industry. While Tesla’s global sales are only a fraction of rivals, the company is seen as a leader in electric vehicles and autonomous driving technology. A report from Jato Dynamics showed that in the first three quarters of 2017, Tesla was the brand with the highest electric vehicle (EV) penetration rate in Europe. For the same period, the Tesla Model S was Europe’s third bestselling EV with 10,000 sales and the Model S remains Tesla’s most popular model in Europe.
In its peak P100D form, the Tesla Model S has 603hp, 967Nm of torque and in Ludicrous mode can hit 60mph from a standstill in 2.5 seconds. Inside the 17” inch touchscreen controls all the car’s functions, while over the air software updates add features and enhance performance. The autonomous driving technology will match your speed to driving conditions, keep you in lane, change lanes, self park, all without driver input. In terms of gadgets and technology, the Tesla Model S makes the Ford Mustang look like a dinosaur from another era.
Inside the Tesla Model S, the 17” inch touchscreen controls all the car’s functions, while over the air software updates add features and enhance performance.
The Tesla Model S’s ability to go head to head with a Ford Mustang is a point not missed by William Fealey, President of the Tesla Owners Group UK. William is on his third Tesla Model S and classes himself as a car enthusiast. He thinks traditional ‘petrolheads’ will be won over by the instant torque of a performance electric car like the Tesla Model S.
“Of course, the concern for someone like Ford is that the Tesla Model S is the best of both worlds as it doesn’t have the compromises of a small EV and its instant torque and subsequent performance is far superior to any Mustang that Ford has ever produced,” he says. “Ford and all the other manufacturers will need to innovate like Tesla has done otherwise they will become the MySpace, Kodak, Nokia or Blockbuster of the car world.”
And though he notes that a Ford Mustang would probably be quicker around a track than a Tesla Model S, “most people in the UK don’t drive around a race track each week”.
The Tesla Model S challenges every notion we have of an electric car, with a combination of speed, style and technology. The car that defines the American Dream may not be immune from the disruption either.
But Ciarán McMahon, head of Ford Ireland, disagrees: “In my opinion, nothing can steal Mustang’s crown as being the car that defines the American Dream. In the first instance, any pretender to that crown would need to have some serious history and legacy behind it – the Model S falls at that first hurdle. The Mustang is peerless in terms of its rich history. Bullitt and the unique association with Steve McQueen was just the start of Mustang’s glittering career on the silver screen with a myriad of other appearances that cemented its position as the car that best evoked the sense of freedom of the open road which is the essence of the American Dream.
"Don’t get me wrong, I think the Tesla Model S is a fine car and the company has made great strides in bringing electric cars mainstream. However, we are still some way off from ‘Electric’ fulfilling its true potential and achieving mass appeal in the market. There is also still a certain sense of exclusivity around the Model S, mainly due to the high purchase cost of the car. I would contend that any car that represents the American Dream has to be a car that is easily available to the masses with no sense of exclusivity around it.”
American Icon: The Highland Green Ford Mustang GT 390 from the movie Bullitt alongside Steve McQueen.
When the Ford Mustang officially went on sale for the first time in Europe in 2015, there was huge demand for the car with the Mustang registering over 10,000 sales in Europe in 2016, its first full year of sales, and over 13,000 in 2017. Within a few months of launch, the Ford Mustang became Germany’s bestselling sports car ahead of homegrown talent like the Porsche 911 and Audi TT.
Google Trends provides a more definitive gauge on public interest in the Ford Mustang versus the Tesla Model S. While it never reveals the actual number of searches on a topic when comparing two search terms, it shows the popularity of each term relative to the other.
According to Google Trends, searches for ‘Ford Mustang’ outweighed those for ‘Tesla Model S’ in 2017 in key European markets like the UK, Germany and France.
Google Trends shows that in 2017 the average number of Google searches in the UK for the Ford Mustang was almost double that for the Tesla Model S
The automotive industry is undergoing change that’s for sure. But for now it looks like the American Dream is still alive and well in Europe in the shape of the Ford Mustang. While Tesla will continue to challenge the status quo, Europeans don’t seem ready to hang up their cowboy boots just yet!