Ford Motor Company's (NYSE:F) Mustang has been an icon since the day it hit the streets some 50 years ago. The 'Stang has appeared in numerous movies, video games, magazines, and just about any other medium possible -- Americans can't get enough of the vehicle.
Nonetheless, sales of the Mustang have declined drastically since its glory days and have even been cut in half since the late '90s. Its chief rival, General Motors' (NYSE:GM) Chevrolet Camaro, has outsold the Mustang in each of the last five years.
However, one thing is evident early in 2015: The Mustang is back, and it's coming to take the Camaro's sales crown.
Back in a big way
Ford's Mustang kicked off the new year with a bang, with U.S. sales soaring a staggering 124% in January compared to last year. Adding in results from last month, which was the Mustang's strongest February since 2007, sales are up a healthy 66% so far this year.
Meanwhile, the Camaro barely squeaked out a 3.8% gain in sales over last year's January through February period. That's even worse than it appears, because sales during the first two months of 2014 were far below expectations due to severe winter weather that crippled the industry's dealership traffic.
More than 17,000 Mustangs have been sold so far this year in the U.S., compared to the Camaro's 11,000 units sold, making the Mustang the best-selling sports car in America since the launch of the all-new 2015 model last fall. And the Mustang is poised to take on the world.
"Mustang is and will continue to be an automotive icon," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president for the Americas, in a press release. "Expanding its availability globally affords our customers around the world the opportunity to have a true firsthand Mustang experience -- one unlike any other."
One major reason behind the reinvigorated sales is a new engine option. Previously, the Mustang was essentially pinned into a niche segment. While there was a V6 engine option, the pony car was aimed for enthusiasts who wanted a V8 and didn't care about fuel economy. As both a Mustang owner and Ford shareholder, it was evident to me that the sales strategy had to change. If sales of the Mustang were to rebound to anywhere near its glory days, it had to attract a new type of consumer while not alienating its loyal fan base -- not an easy line to walk.
However, if sales so far in 2015 are any indication, the new 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine is absolutely roping in a new consumer, one who is more conscious about fuel economy. Consider that dropping the EcoBoost into the Mustang bumps its fuel economy from the V8's 16 mpg/city and 25 mpg/highway to 21 mpg/city and 32 mpg/highway. That 25% increase in fuel economy is a huge deal, and an option car buyers didn't have with the outgoing Mustang model.
In addition to the improved fuel economy with the EcoBoost option, the 2015 Mustang also boasts new standard features and technology that will help lure in consumers. For the first time the 'Stang will offer a fully independent front and rear suspension for improved drive quality, and a rearview camera system now comes standard. Ford even buckled down on safety features by adding more extensive crash sensors and doubling the number of airbags in the new Mustang. That improved focus on safety earned the Mustang the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's five-star overall vehicle score for its new-car assessment program, the highest score possible.
With more engine options, better fuel economy, more technology features and improved safety, the Mustang can fit into just about any consumer lifestyle here in America -- and for the first time abroad as it begins selling in over 100 new markets overseas this year. It's hard to believe that with more than 9.2 million units produced since its 1964 debut, the Mustang's story could really just be beginning -- but that's the truth, and it starts by taking the sales crown from the Camaro this year.
Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.