Ride with the woman in charge of America’s latest muscle car

New York (CNN) It seemed like a good idea at the time. Exciting, in fact. I could take a ride in what will soon be America’s last gas-powered muscle car with the woman responsible for getting it into production and on the streets. But we were in New York, it was four o’clock in the afternoon and I should have known.

Laurie Transou recently took over as lead program engineer for the Ford Mustang. She is in charge of the final adjustments and production rollout of the new 2024 Mustang. As with all Mustangs of the past 59 years, this new one will be available only with gasoline engines. During what turned out to be a very long drive over a very short distance, I learned quite a bit about her and Ford’s decision to keep the Mustang after almost 60 years.

Laurie Transou, chief engineer of the Ford Mustang program.

Transou and others at Ford will tell you that there is an electric Mustang, the Mustang Mach-E SUV. But we weren’t talking about this Mustang. Due to the way Ford is now organized, with separate operating divisions in charge of gasoline vehicles and electric vehicles – Ford Blue and Ford Model E, respectively – Transou is not in charge of the Mustang Mach-E. It’s someone else’s job.

As we took off, there was a burst of speed and a throaty V8 engine noise as we sped down Manhattan’s 11th Avenue. Transou was behind the wheel because journalists aren’t allowed to drive the 2024 Mustang until certain things are finalized. Yet I was getting what would become, over the years to come, an increasingly rare experience.

Transou has never spoken ill of the Mustang Mach-E but, as someone who learned to drive a manual transmission car in a Mustang as a teenager, she clearly has a personal attachment.

“We have our Mustang Mach-E. It goes incredibly fast in a straight line,” she said. “This Mustang can go fast, but it also has this incredible handling and steering, and the sound of the exhaust. So each one offers something a little different.”

Plus, the Mach-E’s zero fuel economy helps lower Ford’s company average fuel economy, number regulators are watching. That means Ford doesn’t have to worry as much about selling these gas-powered two-door Mustangs.

The car we were in, the Mustang coupe, is already an oddity in the American auto industry. First, it’s the only car Ford currently sells in the United States. All other Ford products sold here are trucks or SUVs. Second, its main competitors, the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, will both be out of production in the coming year. GM had already announced plans to sell only electric passenger vehicles by 2035, and besides, the Camaro didn’t quite match the Mustang in the competition that matters: sales.

As for the Challenger, it’s been popular, but Stellantis, Dodge’s parent company, doesn’t currently have the electric vehicles to offset sales of those big V8s for fuel economy and emissions regulations. Dodge is therefore planning to come out with an electric muscle car instead.

Given room to breathe, the Mustang will remain – like some sort of living fossil from an earlier age in the automobile. That’s of course part of its enduring charm and probably one of the reasons why Ford decided not to even offer a hybrid version, at least for now.

Laurie Transou had this 1991 Mustang when she was younger.

“The choice for now was to look at the ICE engine and everything an ICE engine offers,” Transou said, using an industry term for an internal combustion engine.

Customers who like the rumbling sound might like a hybrid at some point “if we decide to offer it,” she said.

Once we had walked a few blocks south on 10th Avenue with little other traffic, it was time to head back north or, in Manhattan parlance, uptown. It was then that I realized our mistake. Once we turned back north, we headed for the rush hour Lincoln Tunnel.

The 500 horsepower V8 engine in the new Mustang Dark Horse is simple. No turbocharger or anything like that. And it’s still offered with a manual transmission of the kind Transou used, wearing out his left leg on the clutch pedal, rarely exceeding first gear in traffic jams.

About 40% of V8 Mustang buyers get a manual transmission, she said, opting for that truly classic driving experience.

“I think once you learn to drive a textbook, it’s such an engaging and fun experience,” she said. “It’s like you’re part of the drive.”

Even from the passenger seat, it didn’t feel engaging and fun.

The 2024 Ford Mustang Dark Horse.

The modern “high tech” option, as far as the Mustang is concerned, is the 315 horsepower “EcoBoost” turbocharged 4-cylinder engine which, Transou pointed out, provides significantly more power than the big V8 engine in the 1991 Mustang that she had when she was young. The efficient 4-cylinder will now only be available with an automatic transmission. I was complaining about it — I liked the 4-cylinder with the manual transmission, a combination still found in today’s Mustang — but I don’t think she’ll change her mind.

As you might guess, given that she grew up with a Mustang and is now in charge of the Mustang program, Transou has an attachment to Ford.

“I’ve been in and around the business for over 30 years,” she said.

His father worked at Ford. Her husband also works at Ford. Just like his father-in-law, his brother and his brother-in-law. As well as his four children.

Just before switching jobs to lead the Mustang rollout, she largely oversaw Ford’s iconic brands, which include the Mustang, Bronco and F-150. She has been involved in projects for new derivatives and special editions of the Mustang. No matter how long we sat in traffic, she wouldn’t divulge any of that beyond the Dark Horse model we were already sitting in. But derivatives, like expensive Shelby models, are how Ford can make big money even with all the expensive engineering development of what is, essentially, a “niche” product.

For now, the future of the Ford Mustang is just that it’s still here, still rumbling, and promised more news to come.

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