While prowling the auction field to check out all the great Ford machines at the Barrett-Jackson auction in West Palm Beach, Florida, we were able to spend a few minutes chatting with Ford Performance’s Marketing Manager Jim Owens — who is one of the most passionate advocates of Blue Oval performance that you will ever meet — about a variety of subjects, including the future of performance vehicles and how the new Mustang Bullitt fits into a robust pony car portfolio.
Keep in mind this chat was before Ford announced that it was bowing out of producing most cars in North America, but the fact remains that performance machines still sell, and that is in part due to the move to bring Ford Performance under one roof…
FordNXT: When Ford Performance was formed part of the mission was to bring the racing world into the street, co-develop, and share engineers. Is that still the case?
Jim Owens: We sit in 333 Republic Drive and 777 Republic Drive and the thing is in between those two buildings is the garage, which is pretty cool. So your racing engineers — Pat DiMarco and Mark Rushbrook — sit in the same building in the same offices as the vehicle program engineers, like our chief engineer, Herman Salenbach. We are all still in the same facility when Ford Performance was created. That will survive people moving, because now it is in our functional processes.
And whether it is SVT, SVE, SVO or Ford Racing, that same passion, energy, ethos is there, so leadership at Ford Motor Company changes, but we are still sitting in the same building with the same people doing the same things that we are leveraging our track stuff and our production car stuff for the track and vice versa. And coming from somebody who worked for both John Coletti (ex-SVT) and Dan Davis (ex-Ford Racing) at the same time, that was stuff that didn’t happen in the past… We’re all together now and Steve Demby is now doing the program job on the Ford GT. He was working for (Dave) Pericak on the racing side and now he’s moved over and he’s doing the program job for the Ford GT. …We’re not changing the structure now, the people are just moving through.
… What we learn from like the GT350S program and what we’re doing learning from the FP350 — or the GT4 that’s out there running —our performance enhancements will eventually make their way to the street and you see this in the Bullitt. Some of that same technology is in this special package, and we’ve been doing that since the ’60s. To me, if you think of the first GT350s and the Boss 302s were organic at that time. …Now there’s a formal process in place where we are getting intellectual capacity that goes from performance to mainstream then mainstream back to performance. If I was talking to enthusiasts and said biggest change for performance beside the racing script in the logo in the SVT is that intellectual capacity is making its way in and out from racing to program, program to performance, and performance back to the mainstream program. That is just phenomenal to see. If you turn around in our Ford Performance staff meetings, to see the size of the team they have now versus back in Colleti’s days when we had about 30 of us in one building, it is good and heartening to see. As the products going to the future though, they will derive those benefits from those people.
FN: How does performance fit in with the push toward electrification and driver-less vehicles?
JO: There are a lot of the enthusiasts who see all the driverless technology and all the electrification and get really nervous as the industry changes and what people are doing but there is a hardcore performance ethos within. If you look at (Jim) Farley, who is still racing cars for fun, there is a performance bent there. There’s a place for performance in all of it.
Lance Mosley, who replaced Henry (Ford III), is the Global Performance Marketing Manager, and he didn’t come from the performance background. When we’re introducing him to all of these activities that we do from a racing perspective and from the performance-vehicle perspective, having the garage right behind the wall where we work right really helps you get that feeling. So the GT500s are side-by-side with our Focus RS and our Ford GT, and the driver-less technology, and some of the electrification all being worked on in that garage, there is still a space for all of it. It’s still part of the Ford Performance DNA.
They are in the same garage and it’s kinda cool. We are enthusiasts. We are geeks. We like a lot of the stuff that visually and viscerally float our boat. But there are just as many enthusiasts who are passionate about electrification. We demonstrate our enthusiasm differently, but the enthusiasm is still there. So Ford works really well enthusiasts. We do some things better than others… We’ve stayed connected to those enthusiasts and we will continue to stay connected to those enthusiasts beyond just the ones that we deal with. And the fact that they are being worked on in the same garage, it’s so cool to walk-through and see that the performance ethos is still going to be there.
If you talk electrification, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing for performance. We had Carroll, a long time ago, with an electric Cobra in the parking lot and he was sitting there doing burnouts. There are some substantial performance enhancements that you can get it from electrification that also help us learn about the efficiency of the vehicle and vice versa. So there are a lot of things that are within Ford in the enthusiast section that we can leverage across the driver-assist technology.
FN: How does the sales success of these vehicles make Ford Performance more viable going forward?
JO: F-series is the best-selling vehicle in the world. Raptor sales do two things for us. One, they are spending less time on the lot. The GT350 versus the base Mustang spends a lot less time on the lot, so they do sell well, but the bigger benefit that the company sees is that halo — when the Focus RS with all-wheel drive and 350 horsepower helps consumers believe that our base Focus is better because of it. So not only is it a sales leader, like they are they spend less time on the lot as even some of our more plentiful STs do as well — so the sales aspect is one but more than the confidence to the focus consumer can have a standard focus they bring out come out that they driving on the road they have a better feeling about their product because of the performance derivatives that we do.
You might not even be a home you might be a standard Focus owner that likes the heated seats, but you know from what we do both on the track and what Ken Block does with Gymkhana that stuff adds credibility. The consumer really might not care about that stuff, but they know that the car is capable of so much more. So it’s not just a sales aspect of it, it’s a confidence aspect of it.
As we go into the future, the people who are running Ford Motor Company understand the benefit of Ford Performance. You can see that with the North American International Auto Show. What do we show? The Bullitt. We do a teaser video of our next incarnation of the GT500. It makes a difference for our dealers, for the company from a sales perspective, and also from the consumer confidence standpoint that that really drives it home both on the sales and marketing side.
FN: Speaking of Bullitt, it is joining a crowded Mustang field, including two Performance Packs, a GT350, and soon, a GT500. How does it slot in and why are so many choices viable?
JO: Make it my Mustang. If you think of SEMA, there are as many flavors of what people want to do to make it their own Mustang to differentiate themselves from the crowd. You are not going to ever be able to make every Mustang that every customer wants, but what you have in this product portfolio is a flavor or a taste for across the gamut. The Bullitt features a unique exterior design and color so you know it is something different. Even if you don’t know Steve McQueen, it is uniquely different enough from a normal Mustang going down the road that somebody might just use it for its own individual style.
We’ve done this over a period of time with the various packages from Boss 302 to GT Cal Special to Pony Package to Shelby GT. There is a desire from the consumer that is strong enough to have those derivatives make both business sense and from the customer satisfaction sense to fulfill the demand. Whether it’s this new GT500 that we’ve teased, that has different levels of performance, or the GT350, that goes around the track and is participating in racing series, or the Pony Package, with a unique grille and unique wheels, there’s enough just demand and desire to make it your individual Mustang that you can spread it across performance, historical context, and then just cool stuff for the younger people who might not remember the ’60s. As long as that demand is there, you will see the plethora of choices from those derivatives that make financial business sense for Ford Motor Company and the enthusiasts benefit.
FN: Would it be safe to say that vehicles like the Edge ST might receive their own owner program at the Ford Performance Racing School?
JO: What I can say is that we believe that the Ford Performance Racing School owner programs — Octane Academy, Adrenaline Academy, Track Attack, Raptor Assault — are core to the DNA of Ford Performance. How do you demonstrate attributes that you might not be able to demonstrate legally on the road? The racing school has been able to fulfill that, so we are always looking forward to those Ford performance vehicles and what we might be able to do for those customers.
After chatting with Jim, it’s great to hear that there is still an appreciation for go-fast machines at Ford. For more on the vehicles Ford Performance has created since its inception and what it might have in store, be sure to check out our coverage here.