It’s not very often that an American automotive icon has a chance to start fresh. In the case of the Ford Mustang, that’s only happened six times after the original went on sale in 1964. So to be part of its design is a great honor and privilege. It also comes with the weight and pressure of needing to absolutely nail it so as to do right by both the car’s reputation, as well as the scores of customers and fans over the near 60-years that’ve made the Original Pony Car so popular. And for the 2024 model year, Ford has introduced the seventh-generation Mustang – codenamed S650 – with a fresh set of sheetmetal, a more futuristic interior, and more horsepower than ever before.
To get further insight, we had S650 Mustang Exterior Design Manager Chris Walter walk us through the process of shaping the evolution of an American icon.
S650 Ford Mustang Exterior Design: Details
“At the very, very beginning, we probably had four or five concepts, early early days. Then, we whittled it down to three. And then, we chose a theme, and interestingly enough, we were chugging along with that theme, and we weren’t happy with it.” Chris Walter stated, going over the genesis of the next-gen Mustang design. “So, we designed an alternative theme. So, that alternative theme ended up playing into that more edgy; chiseled feel that we ended up with the car. The two words being sexy and edgy.”
From there, Ford had an internal dialogue regarding the design theme.
“What we did with that (S650 Mustang design) theme is we kind of did an internal market research with some of our younger folks in design marketing, communications; millennials, gen-Z’s – about 30 of them – and we had kind of an impromptu internal research to look at the one that we had been, kind of just chugging along with.”
“But, we didn’t feel like it pushed the car into the future enough, and we wanted the seventh-gen to be a real, modern interpretation of this iconic design. So, that more edgy theme, that’s the one we went for,” said Walter. “So, I guess in total from early days; we had more than 5, less than 10. But typically, you whittle it down to 3, then down to 2, and go from there.”
Vehicle development is generally a long process, as companies usually take years developing a product before it’s ready for customers. An excellent summary of that is three different stages: design, engineering, and manufacturing. For example, despite the S650 Ford Mustang still featuring some features from the previous generation, vehicle development still saw a timeline of what will be four years. While the auto industry is being pressured to expedite this process – cut in half, in some cases – we can see unwanted side effects of that rapid pace.
“Designing cars and engineering them and manufacturing them, it all takes time. So, we’re going back a few years. Let’s say, probably the summer of 2019, maybe the spring/summer of 2019, we had the multiple themes. We chose a theme late 2019, and then the real time stamp for us was the Covid lockdown.” Walter stated. “So, about a week before Covid lockdown was when we brought in the millennials and gen-z’s to look at this alternative theme, which we really leaned on the sexy and edgy, so that was March of 2020. So, March of ’20 was when we did our final pivot.”
“Designing the Mustang during Covid, those first 8 weeks we were all virtual… not only did we have to pivot on a theme, but we had to learn how to work remotely for at least 8 weeks. Design is a hands-on process, and after that 8 weeks when things kind of loosened up, we had the essential workers in the office, then we could get into the studio as much as we could to work on the clay models.” said Walter.
The decision for the 2024 Ford Mustang design team to clinic with younger employees was “a gut check that our upper management wanted us to do, or to have,” Chris Walter continued. “We were all on board with the design. We were pushing for this edgier theme. And I’m really glad we did because, I think, at the end of the day, we would have come out with seventh-gen, and it would not have been pushing it into that modern realm as much.”
Learning this backstory helps make Ford CEO Jim Farley’s remarks on the S650 Mustang design being “poster car worthy” that much more clear. And seeing its looks in-person at The Stampede reveal event seemed to validate this ethos for many attendees.