Ford Motor Co.'s Mustang is flexing its power in the race for best-selling muscle car.
Sales of the Dearborn automaker's pony car are up 55 percent in the United States through the first five months of the year, and it's outselling its biggest rival — the Chevrolet Camaro — for the first time since 2009.
Through May, Ford sold 56,571 Mustangs; Chevy sold 33,982 Camaros, according to Autodata Corp. The Dodge Challenger is in third place, with 30,166 sold. The Mustang's sizzling start to the year can be attributed to its 50th-anniversary redesign and a new 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that are attracting younger buyers, especially in Southern California.
If the Mustang's blistering sales pace continues — Ford expects around a 40 percent sales gain for June when results are tallied Wednesday — it will finish the year as the best-selling muscle car for the first time in six years. But analysts say its crown could be challenged when the redesigned sixth-generation Camaro goes on sale late this year.
"The newness certainly helps vehicles in this segment," Matt DeLorenzo, managing editor at Kelley Blue Book, said in an interview.
The deciding factor in the pony car segment — both this year and in the future — may not be the purists who crave V-8 engines and buckets of horsepower in cars that only leave the garage on weekends. More important are millennials — buyers through their early 30s — who prefer four-cylinders and improved fuel economy in a sleek, everyday driver.
Nationwide, 35 percent of Mustang buyers are millennials, Ford said. Last year, that number was 30 percent. In Southern California, young buyers snap up 40 percent of Mustangs sold.
Ford says the Mustang is selling particularly well in the important Southern California market. Sales there are up 117 percent, Ford said.
Erich Merkle, Ford's sales analyst, said, "It's done everything we've tried to do: maintain our traditional buyer, but be able to grow into a new buyer as well."