Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Muscle Cars, No Midlife Crisis Required

For the first time since the Carter administration, three big Detroit brands, Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge, all offer rear-wheel-drive coupes that boast a distinctively American blend of in-your-face styling and big horsepower numbers.

How big? Try a 444-horsepower Ford Mustang Boss 302, which can be ordered with a special "Laguna Seca" package that essentially makes it a street-legal race car. Or consider the forthcoming 2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1 that will deliver 550 horsepower from its supercharged V8. Meanwhile, Chrysler LLC offers a Dodge Challenger model with a 470-horsepower Hemi engine that can run from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds.

These monster engines are shoehorned into back-to-the-future body styles that telegraph the core target market for the cars: baby boomers who lusted for these cars in their teens and 20s, but settled for Japanese compacts, minivans and sport-utility vehicles. Equally important to Detroit marketers, though, is capturing the imagination of car enthusiasts who don't remember the '60s and '70s—they weren't born yet.

"It's the attitude of the customer," less than demographics, says Mustang brand manager Jim Owens, who has a customized Mustang of his own that packs 650 horsepower under the hood. It is an attitude that says, "Hey, look at me!" he adds.

For Detroit car makers that were struggling to survive just two years ago, the buzz generated by muscle cars provides a much-needed shot in the arm for their brands. The official Mustang Facebook page, for instance, has more than 1.5 million followers—about twice as many as the Ford Motor Co. Facebook page.

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