The Ford Mustang has been a part of our automotive fabric for so long that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. It’s become an iconic part of the muscle car realm with several generations of metal favored by several generations of fans. There were low points in its lineage, such as in the ’70s and early ’80s, and there have been many high watermarks, such as today.

There’s no doubt among Ford enthusiasts that the current Mustang is arguably the best of the breed in terms of quality, handling, and technical savvy, and you have a world-class engine lineup, the highest efficiency, and one of the best chassis to ever underpin the Mustang.

The current breed also has its downsides, as it’s the most expensive and heaviest Mustang ever. And it’s no longer the entry-level bargain basement car that once appealed to the masses back in the ’60s. It has become more upmarket, more equipped, and has a price point closer to some European performance coupes.

In looking to redesign the next-generation ponycar, many converging forces have the 2015 Mustang facing a major crossroads. It’s racing quickly toward a swiftly rolling freight train of high gas prices, skyrocketing new government fuel mileage regulations, and a much more challenging global marketplace. Today it has a new Chevy Camaro to win against, new V-8 muscle cars coming from Korea to fend off, and now meets the Japanese sports cars face to face.

…the plan is to aggressively export Mustang to countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan.

The Mustang is being redesigned at this moment, and is facing just as drastic a headwind as it did when Ford changed the game with the Mustang II in 1974. Let that sink in for a moment as you are told that the next-generation Mustang is being loosely termed the Mustang III within the halls of Dearborn, Michigan.

While that may send shivers down the spines of some, the good news is that today we have the technology. Best of all, the performance-minded gearheads in Dearborn have the will to meet tomorrow’s new regulations and market forces without turning the current stallion into a wheezing little gelding as was the case with the Mustang II.

What must be reckoned with is that today’s Mustang is heavier and larger than it’s ever been. The 2012 Mustang weighs about 100 pounds more and is virtually identical in size to the big-body ’73 Mustang once widely considered to be a fat pig. The next-generation Mustang will need to shed some weight, lose some girth, and get a lot more efficient for a great many reasons.

Looming CAFE Standards

The biggest force affecting the design and fate of the 2015 Mustang will be the newly minted Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements. This summer, the Obama Administration drastically raised the target for the required average fuel economy rating to a stratospheric 56.2 mpg by 2025. This will change the performance car landscape as we know it, and hopefully not as we saw in the 1970s.

This means that the full fleet of vehicles Ford builds, from the Fiesta to fullsize F-Series trucks, must provide fuel mileage figures that average 56.2 mpg. So for every truck or muscle car that might only achieve 30-35 mpg, Ford will have to sell an equivalent number of vehicles that can get 75-80 mpg to meet the government-mandated average.

If your mouth is wide open, you are getting it. We don’t have fullsize trucks, let alone Shelby GT-500s, that can get 30-35 mpg today, and certainly not the small cars that get 75-80 mpg to offset them. What this means for Mustang is that it must reach never-before-seen levels of efficiency in just the next 10 years to simply exist, let alone push us back in the seat with 550 hp.

As the 2015 Mustang will likely have a lifespan that reaches to 2025, it will need to be much lighter, smaller, and have much more efficient engines. Ford is seeking to shave at least 200-300 pounds from the current car’s 3,600-pound curb weight. This will come partially with downsizing, but mostly from use of lighter materials in the body structure and chassis components. Look for more aluminum and use of high-strength steels.

Hybrid isn’t a dirty word if it’s used to add power and allow that V-8 to exist in modern-day CAFE rules.