Riding with the woman responsible for America’s last muscle car

New York (CNN) Seems like a good idea at this time. really exciting. I get to ride in what will soon be the last gasoline-powered muscle car in America with the woman responsible for getting it into production and on the street. But we were in New York City, it was 4 in the afternoon and I should have known better.

Laurie Transou recently assumed the position of Chief Software Engineer at Ford Mustang. She is responsible for the final modifications and production launch of the new 2024 Mustang. As with every Mustang for the past 59 years, this new model will only be available with gasoline engines. During what turned out to be a very long trip over a very short distance, I learned a little bit about her and Ford’s decision to keep the Mustang going after nearly 60 years.

Lori Transo, Ford Mustang Chief Software Engineer.

Transou and others at Ford will tell you there’s an electric Mustang, the Mustang Mach-E SUV. But we weren’t talking about the Mustang. Because of the way Ford is organized now, with Separate operating sections Responsible for gas-powered vehicles and electric cars—the Ford Blue and Ford Model E, respectively—Transou isn’t responsible for the Mustang Mach-E. This is someone else’s job.

As we took off, there was a blast of speed and V8 engine noise as we pulled down 11th Avenue in Manhattan. Transou was behind the wheel because reporters aren’t allowed to drive the 2024 Mustang until some things are finalized. However, I was getting what would become, over the coming years, an increasingly rare experience.

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Transou has never spoken a bad word about the Mustang Mach-E, but as someone who learned how to drive a manual transmission Mustang in her teens, she clearly has a personal attachment.

“We have a Mustang Mach E. It’s going incredibly fast in a straight line,” she said. “The Mustang can go fast, but it also has this incredible handling and steering and then an exhaust note. So they each offer something a little bit different.”

Plus, the Mach-E’s zero fuel economy helps maintain Ford’s average fuel economy, a figure regulators are looking at. This means that Ford doesn’t have to worry about selling its two-door gas-powered Mustangs.

The car we were in, the Mustang Coupe, is indeed an outsider in the American auto industry. First, it’s the only physical car Ford currently sells in the United States. Every other Ford product sold here is a truck or SUV. Secondly, its main competitors, which are Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, both of which will be discontinued over the next year. GM has already announced that it plans to sell anything but electric passenger cars by 2035 And besides, the Camaro wasn’t really a match for the Mustang in the all-important competition—sales.

As for the Challenger, it’s been popular but Stellantis, Dodge’s parent company, doesn’t currently have EVs to make up for big sales of V8s for fuel economy and emissions regulations. So Dodge plans to come out with an extension electric muscle car instead.

With room to breathe, the Mustang will look like some kind of living fossil from an earlier era in the automotive world. This is, of course, part of its continued charm, and perhaps one of the reasons why Ford decided not to offer a hybrid version, at least for now.

Lori Transo got her 1991 Mustang when she was younger.

“The choice at the moment was to go with the ICE and everything the ICE has to offer,” Transou said, using an industry term for the internal combustion engine.

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Customers who like a roaring sound may love the hybrid at some point, she said, “if we decide to offer that.”

Once we’ve made it a few blocks down Southbound Tenth Avenue with little more traffic, it’s time to head back north or, in Manhattan parlance, uptown. That was when I realized our mistake. Once we were back north, we were heading towards the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour.

Mustang’s new 500-horsepower V8 engine is straightforward. There is no turbocharger or anything like that. And it’s still offered with a manual transmission of the sort the Transco was using, gnashing its left leg on the clutch pedal, and rarely going beyond first gear in a traffic jam.

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

“I think once you learn how to drive a manual, it’s a fun and engaging experience,” she said. “It’s like being part of the drive.”

Even from the passenger seat, it doesn’t look so fun and attractive.

Ford Mustang Dark Horse 2024.

When it comes to the Mustang, the modern “high-tech” option is the 315-hp “EcoBoost” four-cylinder engine that, as Transo points out, delivers much more power than the big V8 in the 1991 Mustang when it was young. The efficient 4-cylinder engine will now only be available with an automatic transmission. I complained about it—she liked the 4-cylinder engine with the manual transmission, a combination you can still get in today’s Mustangs—but I don’t think she’ll change her mind.

As you might imagine, since it grew up with Mustangs and is now in charge of the Mustang program, the Transo has a connection to Ford.

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

Her father worked for Ford. Her husband also works for Ford. So do her father-in-law, brother and brother-in-law. So are all four of her children.

Before changing jobs to head up the Mustang rollout, she oversaw extensively Ford’s iconic brands, which include the Mustang, Bronco, and F-150. She was involved in plans for new Mustang derivatives and special editions. No matter how long we sat in traffic, it wouldn’t say anything about anything other than the Dark Horse model we were actually sitting in. But derivatives, like Shelby models are priceyHow can Ford make so much money even with all the costly engineering developments of what is, in essence, a “niche” product?

For now, the future of the Ford Mustang is simply that it’s still here, still teasing, and I promise there’s more news to come.

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