The Ford Mustang was an absolute smash when it first rolled onto the scene in 1964, moving more than a hundred thousand units for its “1964.5” model year – a partial year of production. Its first full year, Ford moved more like 559,000 Mustangs, and a staggering 607,000 the year after that. Those are insane stats for a small, sporty, RWD two-door with European-inspired styling and not much space in the trunk.
Just don’t ask how the Ford Mustang is doing today.
Total Muscle Car Sales Of 2021: New Record Lows
In 2021, the S550 Ford Mustang lost its pony car sales crown to the Dodge Challenger, experiencing its single worst year in US showrooms in its nearly-60-year history.
Just 52,414 new Ford Mustang coupes found their forever home last year, a 14.2% decrease from the 61,090 ‘Stangs sold in the US the year prior. And that figure was already 15.7% below the 72,489 new Ford Mustang coupes sold in 2019.
In fact, after an initial strong surge in demand for the current S550 Mustang in 2015, the S550 has seen its sales decline with each successive year.
Even so, the Ford Mustang still managed to outsell its chief rival, the Chevrolet Camaro, by a wide margin. Chevy only managed to move 21,893 units last year, a new record low for the nameplate, sinking below the 2020 record low.
Meanwhile, Stellantis sold 54,314 units of the Dodge Challenger, which was actually up 3 percent from 2020, despite facing microchip shortage headwinds, with sales plummeting 30 percent in Q4 2021. It would take the muscle car sales crown, if not for the Dodge Charger doing even better. The four-door muscle car takes the sales crown between all four vehicles, accounting for 78,389 sales in 2021, a 1 percent increase from 2020, despite a 29 percent nosedive in sales during Q4 2021.
To put it another way, the Dodge Challenger sold more than double the Camaro, while the Dodge Charger outsold the Mustang and Camaro combined.
Why The Slow Sales?
There’s likely no one single cause for the steady year-over-year-over-year decline in sales. 2020 marked the first time the Ford Mustang saw sales dip below 70,000 since 2009 – you know, after the mortgage bubble burst, when the Great Recession was in full swing.
Needless to say, the global pandemic and the accompanying automotive supply chain disruptions clearly have not been kind to The Original Pony Car. In particular, the semiconductor chip shortage has only gotten worse since the start of the pandemic, so that could be a major contributor.
Of course, that only applies to years 2020 and 2021. The Ford Mustang sales declines in each of the previous few years were likely the result of waning interest in an aging model, a continued shift in consumer preferences, miscellaneous economic factors, or some mix of the three.
But there’s sort of a catch to all this: sales of the Ford Mustang Mach-E are listed separately from Mustang coupe sales. That makes sense, given that the two are entirely different vehicles built at different factories on different platforms. If we were to lump Mach-E sales in with those of the Mustang coupe, however, that’s another 27,140 unit sales tied to the Mustang nameplate.
Whether or not the Mach-E actually drew regular Mustang customers away from the coupe in droves is unclear, but it seems unlikely; early sales data suggests that the majority of Mach-E buyers are new to the Ford brand, let alone Mustang. But if there’s a silver lining to the Mustang coupe’s showroom struggles, the Mach-E’s breakout success is it.
The Threat Of Performance Trucks And SUVs
Perhaps a likely culprit to the evaporation of Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, and Dodge Challenger sales is the growth of the off-road performance truck and SUV market. On several occasions, we’ve been told by those privy to the marketing data that the JL Jeep Wrangler has a knack for pulling in Mustang customers, while the Dodge Charger and Challenger contend for the hard-earned dollars of pickup truck customers.
Yet it’s no longer just the Jeep Wrangler and select trucks that muscle cars have to compete against for a customer’s money. The Ford Bronco is here now, as are trucks like the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, Ford F-150 Raptor, and Ram 1500 TRX. All of them are priced around various muscle cars, from the $40,000-range (Camaro LT1 vs Colorado ZR2), to the $60,000 range (Mustang Mach 1 Performance Pack vs Raptor), to even the $100,000 range (a loaded Challenger Super Stock vs Ram TRX Ignition Edition).
And there are more of these vehicles on the way, including the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2, Ford F-150 Raptor R, Ford Bronco Raptor and Everglades, Ford Ranger Raptor, Ram TRX 392, and further Jeep Gladiator variants. By comparison, there are virtually no new variants of the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, or Dodge Charger in the pipeline, as brands risk nuking their cachet with future electric vehicles. Only the new S650 Ford Mustang is due out in 2023.
If customers are voting with their dollars, then the election results are clear. They want fun, off-road-performance trucks and SUVs.
Contrary to Jeep and Dodge marketing data that has us drawing this hypothesis, Ford’s marketing people haven’t really examined whether or not the Bronco is pulling in the Mustang just yet (we asked), and Chevy marketing only just realized it would be a good ideal to ditch the dreadful “Real People” campaign. Make of that what you will.
While the trucks and SUVs don’t offer the on-road performance as the muscle car crop, they offer far more utility for cargo and passengers, and will go places that are far, far off the pavement. So when we look for reasons why S550 Mustang sales have continued to decline over the years, or any muscle car for that matter, perhaps we need look no further than their own showrooms.