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Ford's new Mustang blends past and power

Ford Motor Co. launched its all-new 2005 Mustang on Monday, the fifth generation of the iconic sports car the company sorely needs to help lift sluggish U.S. sales.

The new car, built at the AutoAlliance International plant in Flat Rock that Ford co-owns with Mazda Motor Corp., is scheduled to reach showrooms next month. The base price for a V6 version will be $19,410. The GT version with a V8 engine will start at $24,995.

The new car's design has received kudos from analysts and Mustang enthusiasts for effectively marrying design cues from the 1960s with modern enhancements. The three-element taillights, for example, harken back four decades to the Mustang's origins. But the new 4.6-liter, 300-horsepower engine has more than 50 percent more power than the V8 in the classic 1964 model.

"America, your car is ready," said Jim Padilla, Ford's chief operating officer. "Mustang is the exclamation point of Ford's product onslaught."

Ford is in the midst of launching nine new or revamped vehicles in 90 days, including nameplates such as the Ford Five Hundred, the company's new flagship sedan, and the Freestyle crossover vehicle.

Ford has dubbed 2004 the "Year of the Car," although the company's car sales were down 14.2 percent for the first eight months of the year, including a 10 percent drop in Mustang business, according to Autodata Corp. Overall vehicle sales were off nearly 5 percent.

In addition, Ford is in jeopardy this year of losing to Chevrolet its long-held title as the nation's best-selling automotive brand.

In a research report, Merrill Lynch's John Casesa said Ford's new products "present some opportunities and some challenges."

Casesa said the popularity of crossover vehicles, which typically have characteristics of a car, minivan and sport utility vehicle, and Ford's large distribution network bode well for the Freestyle. But Casesa noted that the Five Hundred will compete in a crowded field of large sedans that he predicts "will continue to decline as a percentage of the market."

Ford has gone to great lengths to make sure the launch of the new Mustang is flawless.

The automaker invested nearly $700-million in Flat Rock's flexible manufacturing system, which makes the plant, about 15 miles south of Detroit, capable of building up to six different models on two vehicle platforms.