LOS ANGELES – The horse is out of the barn.
Ford has taken the bold step of labeling its new battery-powered SUV as the Mustang, the first time in 55 years that anything other than a sporty car has been blessed with the designation "pony".
But don't think the move is unique. The automotive industry is filled with attempts to get in on famous names – or popular models – over the years. Some of these spin-offs have been winners. Others came off as clumsy, inauthentic or misguided.
Led by the electric Mustang Mach-E SUV, expect to see some more spin-offs and customizations take place as the media preview days of the Los Angeles Auto Show take place early this week. The public part of the show starts Friday and runs through December 1st.
The timing of new iterations for cars couldn't be better.
"Car sales are declining, and as a result, car manufacturers are finding creative ways to carve niches for themselves to stand out," says Jessica Caldwell, automotive industry analyst for the car buying website Edmunds.com .
Collapsing a spin-off of an existing vehicle is generally cheaper than making a brand new car. In addition, a variant of a known name makes it easier to sell the vehicle, since marketers do not need to teach the audience a new, unknown moniker and hope it sticks at the time of purchase.
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That probably explains what Ford has in mind when it came to Mach-E, a pun on Mustang Mach 1  a performance version introduced in 1969 at the beginning of the muscle car era.
With Mach-E, Ford hopes to generate the kind of auto-show excitement that surrounded last year's spin-off hit that blended a Jeep Wrangler off-roader and pickup, and created the Jeep Gladiator. That model is credited by Fiat Chrysler for drawing customers to showrooms.
Some carmakers have not stopped making just one spin-off.
Toyota paid off the success of its gas-sipping hybrid, the Prius, after gasoline prices rose in 2008 by making a Prius V-car, Prius C sub-compact and a plug-in version, Prius Prime.
The family has since seen some outcasts. Toyota killed by Prius V in 2017 and Prius C is on death row. Small car sales have gone down, but perhaps more importantly, Toyota has spread the hybrid technology to several of its mainstream cars and SUVs, which means it doesn't just have to use the Prius name to provide a great fuel economy.
Some other spin-offs automakers have tried over the years:
Pickup sales grew – just as it is today – and Ford thought it touted an unmet need In the market, luxury pickup. In 2002 Ford added a number of features to the F Series to create the plush Lincoln Blackwood, a pickup meant to bring golf clubs over to hay balls.
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Consumers went into balance. Blackwood just didn't connect.
"When I think of Cadillac and Lincoln, I think of luxury from old lines. When I think of pickups, I think of youthful, lively people who do things. The two just don't connect," says Leslie Kendall, chief historian for the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Sure, it looks easy to turn a car into a convertible. Just cut off the ceiling and the result is usually pleasing to the eye. But Nissan tried to do the same with Murano, its stylish crossover, and the result was, well, "neither fish nor bird," said Ian Beavis, a veteran car sales manager who is now chief strategist for AMCI Global.  The Murano Cross Cabriolet was introduced in 2011, the kind of weird mashup that we once compared to ice cream with bacon flavor, frisbee golf and mules. It did not help that it started at around $ 47,000, which had dropped to around $ 42,000 when it was shot from the lineup in 2015.
The Droptop SUV did not die with the fallout of Murano CrossCab. Land Rover just returned with its Evoque crossover convertible, which disappeared with model year 2019.
Sexy station wagon
The station wagons in the 1960s and 1970s, now called crossovers, had a dowdy image, kind of like today's minivans. So Fiat Chrysler couldn't have made a bolder move more than a decade ago when it introduced Magnum, a raging looking wagon that largely originated from the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger sedans.
General Motors brought the same panache with the Cadillac CTS-V wagon, a spin-off from the CTS-V sedan, both with a large V-8 engine under the hood.
"It was back in the day when they were trying to do something that was different, "Beavis said. And it was a "relatively slow investment to do so."
Both Magnum and CTS-V still have loyal fans, although both were dropped from their brand setup.
2004 GMC Envoy XUV "was just weird," former GM Deputy Bob Lutz wrote in his 2011 book "Car Guys vs. Bean Counters."
The XUV was a spin-off of the broadcast SUV with a roof that opened with slats like a table. Lutz said it evolved from a GM edict that 40% of all future products had to be considered "innovative." The idea was that the escalator would allow families to transport potted trees or grandfather clocks in an upright position.
Lutz said he wanted to kill XUV out of the gate, but that GM executives gave in to well-executed PowerPoint presentations and predictions that GM would sell up to 110,000 of them a year. He said that XUV died after 13,000 were produced.
Car gets pickup (and vice versa)
They were a car in front and a pickup in the back. Think Chevrolet El Camino, Ford Ranchero and Volkswagen Rabbit pickup. There were others too.
Not a bad idea. Buyers would get the comfort and style of a car and, to tail, a bed in the back.
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However, they were not for serious carriers. "I don't think you use them for hard use," Kendall said. But hey, they were fun.
And really, in the end, isn't that what cars are about?