By on January 19, 2017

2018 Ford Mustang

“Somewhere out there, a mom or dad is explaining to Mustang-loving children they didn’t get to see the new model because Ford was playing ‘I’ve Got A Secret’ when the family spent its time and money on a day at the show.”

The Detroit Free Press is madder than the proverbial hatter over Ford’s decision to delay the introduction of the 2018 Mustang until the Tuesday of the NAIAS public week. But you can ignore all the hysteria, including Freep’s suggestion that Ford offered refunds to everybody who attended the Charity Preview and the first three public days, because once again, Ford’s got a better idea — and it’s one that is going to be used everywhere from Audi to Volvo in years to come.


With its late-breaking Mustang introduction, Ford was merely taking advantage of Wee Willie Keeler’s famous advice: “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ’em where they ain’t.” In this case, of course, the “ball” is publicity and the sales to which that publicity leads. And hitting ’em where they ain’t? Why, that just refers to finding an open spot in the news cycle.

Let’s start with this: Revealing a new car at the Detroit Auto Show is a waste of time and resources. As Natalie Merchant would say, it’s a tear in a salted sea. The journosaurs and vid-kids are rushing from one press event to the next, trying to digest your spiel into a three-paragraph summary to go with some hastily-snapped shots or the pre-loaded embargo pics given to them ahead of time. Nothing you say or show is going to get a full share of attention. It will just be stacked up with the rest of the news from the show.

All of that is well and good if you’re just introducing some new trim levels or blabbering on about mobility, but if you’ve spent a couple of billion dollars on a new car, or even the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in a major refresh like the 2018 ‘Stang, sticking with the regular show program will ensure that you wind up being stuck between the new Odyssey and the new LS500 in the enthusiast-site show round-ups. That’s no good.

Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen an increasing number of automakers step outside the traditional Detroit-show script to get special attention for their products. Because the self-sustaining blobular entity that we know as the journosaur-PR-industrial complex thinks in certain narrow and predictable paths, most of these off-schedule reveals have come in the form of a fabulously expensive and exclusive party before the show to which only the the most dependable bootlickers/influencers are usually invited. The quid pro quo is both fair and explicit: we cover your dinner and drinks for the evening, you write about our product before you get swept away in the rushing tide of Monday’s press-release events.

Ford’s certainly done that sort of thing in the past, but this time I think somebody decided to apply some intelligent thought to the process. It probably went something like this:

  • We don’t want to be buried in the Monday rush.
  • But doing it beforehand is both expensive and difficult, because the average toad-shaped journosaur will skip the 2018 Mustang’s reveal for a Rolls-Royce or Mercedes-Benz party every single time.
  • But… and here’s the key piece of thinking…
  • nobody buys a car right after the show anyway!
  • So it’s not necessary to beat the show… you only have to be separate from the show.

So, Ford waits a week for all the hype and all the PR and all the hot takes to die down… and then, BAM! NEW MUSTANG, BICHEZZZZZ! Had they shown it in the midst of all the sustainability crap the previous Monday, it would have been worth two sentences in a wrap-up piece. But by letting it appear on the public day with relatively little fanfare, Ford created a newsworthy story all by itself.

There’s a particular scene from the book God Emperor Of Dune that I’d like to use as a metaphor here, but how many of you have read the book? Very few, so let’s just continue on. (If you did read the book, think back to when the Face Dancers attack Leto’s cart in the form of multiple Duncan Idahos, and the real Duncan chooses an unusual way to differentiate himself.) The point is that you’ve got to hit ’em where they ain’t if you want to make real waves in $THE_CURRENT_YEAR.

There’s no debate to be had about the brilliance of Ford’s action. The only question left: Was it ethical? The Free Press’ Mark Phelan is upset that the car wasn’t available for viewing during the Charity Preview or the first few days of the show. As far as the Charity Preview goes — seriously, fuck those people twice. I attended the Charity Preview every year from 2001 to 2007 and every year I walked away asking myself why I was spending $800 to associate with the biggest group of loudmouthed jerkoffs in the Midwest. So they didn’t see a Mustang. So what. If you can spend $450 or more per head on a party, you’re probably not a buyer for a 2018 Mustang anyway. Based on what I saw at that event, 90 percent of it is standing around holding a champagne glass and desperately trying to make eye contact with somebody whom you have a vague personal or social connection. Shed no tears for the “charitable” — they were all too busy taking selfies in a Rolls-Royce Ghost or something.

Things are a little trickier when you talk about the public, who paid real money to come in and see all the cars. But participation in an auto show for a manufacturer is a matter of choice, not a public duty. Look at Porsche — they skipped the show entirely. You can argue that the Big 2.5 owe the public a little bit of participation, since many of the people visiting the show are employees of the domestic automakers or their suppliers, but it’s hard to define exactly what is “owed” there.

If you didn’t see the 2018 Mustang at the auto show because you went early, you have two choices. You can go back, of course. Or you can visit a Ford dealer. This latter option is what Ford would prefer, because you can’t buy Mustangs at the auto show. You have to go to the dealers. So once again we see that Ford is a little smarter than the average bear. Look for the other automakers to start following the Blue Oval’s lead.

Maybe you’ll eventually see the majority of the new-car reveals happening during the actual show, and not the media preview. Once that happens, there’s another question that we’ll all need to ask: What do we need the media preview for, anyway? Why not make the press go to the show like regular people? What harm would it do? If playing “I’ve Got A Secret” is a bad idea, and according to the Freep it most certainly is, then why not get rid of all the secrets entirely?

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44 Comments on “What Kind of Message Was Ford Sending by Introducing the 2018 Mustang on a Tuesday?...”


  • avatar

    Mostly, the out-of-town media is perplexed/cranky because the Mustang wasn’t shown until after they (we) left Detroit, and because Ford’s NAIAS presentation — which is often a show-stealer — was kind of low on content and a Mustang refresh would have amped it up a bit. (I didn’t think it was a big deal myself, but my beat is business and not buff-book coverage, so YMMV and all that.)

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    “What Kind of Message Was Ford Sending by Introducing the 2018 Mustang on a Tuesday”
    They’re a fan of the Street Fighter movie?

    Actually I bet they didn’t have anything budgeted or planned in time for the show but someone demanded a release as soon as possible. Thus Tuesday instead of, say, Chicago next month.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    This is the information age. We can see everything, practically as it happens.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I think pissing off mainstream auto journalists is a sound strategy. It’s like that Costanza episode of Seinfeld.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    The best part by far of my attending the charity thing at the Chicago show was getting to meet Cheryl Scott in person. Wow.

  • avatar
    DevilsRotary86

    “What Kind of Message Was Ford Sending by Introducing the 2018 Mustang on a Tuesday?”

    That autoshows are increasingly irrelevant and most gearheads get their auto news by browsing car blogs during work hours?

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    *Ethical*? Really?

    It’s a marketing show, where do ethics come into it? Sure, if there was some tit-for-tat deal where it was released exclusively to certain journos in return for a positive review or something – but it was put on public display. *Ethics* aren’t the issue.

    Now, on the other hand, will journalists be ethical? Will they still provide an impartial review despite being spurned? Or will they let their bruised egos colour their commentary of the vehicle launch?

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “tit-for-tat deal where it was released exclusively to certain journos in return for a positive review or something”

      That is by “normal” definitions “unethical” but it can be argued that it is perfectly fine since that is how presstitution works.

      Unethical
      – 1. not morally correct
      – 2. not in accord with the standards of a profession

      Option #2 opens the can of worms, “are motojourno’s professionals?”

  • avatar
    ajla

    Malibu Stacy gets a new hat and the Freep is mad they didn’t get to see it first.

    Although it would be funny if the Journosaurs get mad enough at Ford over this to start delivering consistent comparison test losses.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “What Kind of Message Was Ford Sending by Introducing the 2018 Mustang on a Tuesday?”

    I dunno, maybe they don’t like Mondays, which gives them something in common with the Boomtown Rats?

  • avatar
    Maymar

    So, does Bark still stand by his Virtue Signalling screed given that Ford made a point of showing the Mustang separately?

  • avatar
    BiturboS4

    I know Jack thinks photography is for Womyn and cucks, but try getting a good shot of a car at a public day at a car show. It’s impossible.

  • avatar
    Chi-One

    “The best part by far of my attending the charity thing at the Chicago show was getting to meet Cheryl Scott in person. Wow.”

    Word! Only reason I watch the weather segment.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    Tuesday was the only open day on Dwayne Johnson’s schedule.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    Ford doesn’t care about their fans at all.

    This is the same Ford that sued a Mustang enthusiast club for printing Mustang calendars.

    So a scummy move like this is not surprising in the least.

    • 0 avatar
      hgrunt

      From what I understand, it’s because the Ford and Mustang names and logos are trademarked and the club was selling the calendar. Ford (or rather, their legal counsel) is obligated to defend those trademarks or they’ll be considered abandoned.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford has salaried staff and people working for their ad agency in enthusiast and club relations. I just ran into John Clor at the NAIAS. He now works for an agency but worked for Ford in club relations for a long time. Ford doesn’t do anything to the Mustang without considering how Mustang enthusiasts feel about it. Why do you think it took so long for the Mustang to get independent rear suspension?

      • 0 avatar
        raph

        @ Ronnie – they certainly do. I remember Ford sending out a questionnaire asking if Mustang owners would prefer an engine sourced from Jaguar or a domestically developed engine and another time a chassis engineer dropped by an internet forum I used to hang out on and asked what we did and didn’t like about the handling on the 05-09 S-197s.

        And it was a few years ago on the same forum that we were talking about an LCD configurable gauge cluster (that is probably just coincidence or maybe not).

        Not to mention as you’ve stated the various club events where Ford reps show up and field questions.

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Sour grapes EB?

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        Not at all. Of the three domestic pony/muscle cars, The mustang is the least appealing.

        Although it is pretty sad that Ford would go after their most loyal customers like that but doing a low class things is typical FMC.

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    The Dune reference almost made me spit out my coffee–I stopped partway through Children of Dune and skipped to the last book where Duncan Idaho united man and machine. Maybe I should pick it back up and fill in those blanks

  • avatar

    “If you didn’t see the 2018 Mustang at the auto show because you went early, you have two choices. You can go back, of course. Or you can visit a Ford dealer. ”

    One of these days, an automaker will be smart and introduce a new car they way they did it in days of yore: simultaneously at every dealer in the country.

    There was a time when they covered up the windows of car dealerships to build the hype. Of course that was when American cars were heavily restyled every year, compared to today’s triennial mid-cycle refreshening.

    In an era with cellphone cameras, though, I’m not sure they could keep the wraps on an actual production vehicle long enough to get it to the dealers for the reveal. Ford had a hard enough time keeping the new GT project secret and that didn’t involve getting thousands of early production vehicles to the dealers.

    • 0 avatar
      ElAntonius

      I’ve seen my car on the facebook page of some mouth breathing service “adviser” while it was in for an oil change.

      “Just my toy for the day” (No it wasn’t, and he didn’t joyride it, seeing as I was waiting for it)

      A vehicle “under wraps” at any dealership would be all over facebook, reblogged and reposted about a billion times within 30 seconds of arriving.

      Ford’s done pretty fine for their fans from what I can tell. The piston trophy and flat plane crank trophy sitting on my desk at home are pretty good evidence of that.

      The Ford section is typically one of the better sections at the Tampa Auto Show, though GM really tends to win that front…both companies tend to let you look at the good stuff and sit in the normal stuff (last time I went, in 2015, the GT350 and Focus RS were on the floor, but locked, Mustang GTs and Focus STs were a free for all, and on the GM side the Camaro SS was locked up behind rope, but the various Caddies and Corvettes were free for anyone to sit in). No one reveals anything there.

      Subaru and Mazda always make me laugh. Every single manual they have is sans shift knob.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “If you didn’t see the 2018 Mustang at the auto show because you went early, you have two choices. You can go back, of course. Or you can visit a Ford dealer. ”

      The problem with the “visit the dealer” thing is that it’s just such a painful, unpleasant experience to just go casually see a car. I stopped off at Lexus, of all places, the other night because I literally just wanted to sit in a vehicle of theirs to see how it fit, and even there the salesman was always close at hand asking me questions, etc. And that’s Lexus, brand of the stellar dealer. I’ve had several dealers of all brands give me serious attitude that basically said “if you’re not here to buy my car you’re wasting my time” and I was making no attempt whatsoever to occupy their time at all; quite the opposite in fact.

      And to top it all off, I’m a reasonably well dressed 35 year old white guy, exactly the type of person most dealers WANT shopping in their stores. I can only imagine what it’s like just trying to check out a car casually if you are in a different demographic.

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        When I was a reasonably well dressed 35 yo white guy my wife and I went to look at a Mitsi Ralliart. After sitting in it to make sure my petite wife could fit reasonably well we said we’ll take it for a drive, the salesman said not without a credit check. Needless to say Mitsi did not sell a car.

    • 0 avatar
      olddavid

      When I was a wee lad, my Dad would rent those spotlights to dance on the clouds announcing the “new and improved” 1956 Chrysler-Plymouth-Rambler-Hudson – fill in any year from ’47 to about ’66 and you would be right. With the onset of hippiedom and the birth of the cool (Miles was way ahead of his time in ’56 – the rest of the country caught up about 1965), the yearly new car showing became passe. I recall not even noticing the change. Life sure sneaks up on you when you least expect.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Glad I waited until this weekend to take my kids to the show.

  • avatar
    bluegoose

    This is nothing new. FCA introduced the Hellcat and the Pacifica outside of the traditional Auto Show cycle. Ford didn’t come up with this.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I thought the Mustang event was actually held on Tuesday the 10th but embargoed for a week, no?

    I had heard tell of a “secret” invite only event at Ford WHQ that was originally supposed to be on Monday morning, but it was quickly rescheduled to Tuesday after a number of folks said they weren’t going to forego all the press conferences downtown at Cobo.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I was not aware that the Mustang was going through a total redesign especially since a completely new Mustang was introduced just a few years ago. i thought that a complete redesign would last more than 2 or 3 model years.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I didn’t see the big deal. The 2018 Mustang is hardly a huge departure from the 2017–in fact, I attended the NAIAS (while the car was on display) and walked by it several times before I saw the sign stating what it was.

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