America’s Latest Export is a Muscle Car War

A 50-year rivalry long disputed on streets, circuits and drag strips across America has now taken hold in China. 

The quintessential car war is finding young new soldiers in the People’s Republic as both Ford and Chevrolet aim to profit from the world’s largest car market in more ways than one.

The growing infatuation with pony cars in China first started when the Camaro rode its way across the Pacific puddle on a wave of popularity created by the car’s starring role as Bumblebee in the Transformers film franchise; the Mustang following in the early part of 2015 with the redesigned car now built for global tastes– the arrival of the sixth-gen Camaro last month puts the current cars tete-a-tete for the first time in the People’s Republic.

Granted, volume is still tiny compared to North America–Chevy’s averaged about 300 cars per year, while Ford has fared better with 6,200 Mustangs sold since it first debuted–but for the Detroit duo it’s more about building a brand, happy to at lure shoppers into showrooms using “hero” cars in the hopes of introducing more people to their entire model lineups.

Alan Batey, global brand chief at Chevrolet, told Automotive News during the Shanghai Auto Show, “I don’t believe the muscle car segment is going to be a leading segment in China,” before emphasizing it’s importance in telling the brand’s story.

“Chevrolet’s got an amazing history, a 100-year-old brand that’s been here for only a decade, that people don’t even know about. But they are fascinated by it.”

While Ford views China as a market with 50 years of pent up demand. “The Mustang is an American icon. They respect it for what it is,” Dave Schoch, president of Ford Asia Pacific told the publication.

Despite the small numbers buyers are just as car crazy as their counterparts here. At an event put on by Ford in Shanghai, owners dressed in jeans and leather jackets milled about, listening to the sounds of the Beach Boys and Johnny Cash, while admiring the mix of Mustangs on display.

“I really wanted to buy the Mondeo,” one Mustang fanatic said of the Chinese made Fusion. “But when I saw the Mustang, it was love at first sight. I had to buy it. And I will drive it forever.”

And they’re willing to pay to play, with emphasis on pay.

Prices are inflated by 25 percent thanks to import tariffs on U.S.-made cars, plus shipping fees and market homologation costs. In China, a new Camaro equipped with the 2.0T–the only configuration currently exported– starts around $58,000, while the 2.3-liter EcoBoost Mustang is nearly identical, although Ford does offer the 5.0-liter V8 as an optional upgrade.

“These kind of people love American culture,” said another Mustang owner. “If you want this car, you’re going to have to pay the price.”

However, given the fanaticism, the day could come when the Chinese get their own domestically produced pony cars.

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