TodayApril 17, 2022

The American Embodiment of Success

Ford Mustang GT

Hau Thai-Tang is an American success story. Thai-Tang was appointed Director, Advanced Product Creation and Special Vehicle Team (SVT). Thai-Tang was Chief Nameplate Engineer for the development and launch of the 2001 Mustang GT, Mustang Cobra, and Bullitt Mustang GT models. Under Thai-Tangs tutelage Mustang sales have increased sixty percent from last year.

Thai-Tang was the vehicle dynamics supervisor and vehicle engineering manager for the 2000 LS, which won Motor Trend magazine’s “Car of the Year” award.

Thai-Tang studied mechanical engineering and graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburg. He earned an MBA from the University of Michigan and started working for Ford in 1988 as a Ford College Graduate trainee. He went to high school in New York where his family lived after leaving Vietnam.

Thai-Tang has risen through the ranks at Ford on his own merits and skills, and both are impressive. If you were a child in Saigon, Vietnam in the 60s and 70s one would expect your most vivid memories of that time to be of the war. But not Hau Thai-Tang. Just like most boys his age, Hau was into cars.

The American Success Story

The Republic of Vietnam was once a French colony, so like most Vietnamese Hau grew up with his family driving a 1956 crank start two-cylinder French Citroen “Deux Chevaux”. Hau laughs as he relates how bad the car was, “I remember my Father hitting a dog that had run out in the middle of the street, the dog ran away, but the fender fell off.”

Thai-Tangs family was upper-middle-class, his Grandfather a prominent businessman in the rubber plantation business, supplying material for tires to companies such as Michelin. Both his parents were college-educated, his mother worked in customer service for Chase Manhattan Bank, his father was a teacher. Hau had one brother, Nan.

During the Vietnam war, soldiers were allowed to bring their cars with them, courtesy of the military. The car of choice was the car that most exemplified the American muscle, the Ford Mustang. It was during a trip with his Grandfather to a military base that Hau caught his first glimpse of the white Mach 1. “This car embodied America and what it stood for; wide open spaces, access, inclusiveness,” says Thai-Tang.

According to Thai-Tang, there was not much fighting in Saigon proper, that he remembered. Thai-Tangs father had to fight in the Tet (lunar new year) Offensive in 1968 in Saigon, a battle that took everyone by surprise because the Vietcong guerrillas had promised to observe a temporary truce around the New Years celebrations.

Instead, they attacked every major city in South Vietnam. According to Henry Kissinger, that was the turning point in the war, “Henceforth, no matter how effective our action, the prevalent strategy could no longer achieve its objectives within a period or force levels politically acceptable to the American people.”

If the purpose of the attack was to drive a wedge between the South Vietnamese and the Americans, the goal was not met in Hau’s house. As the North Vietnamese advanced into South Vietnam in 1975, Chase Manhattan Bank decided to evacuate some of its loyal employees and their families back to the United States. “Our family was atypical of most Vietnamese families; we were small in comparison and well educated.”

Waiting for a sign – a White Christmas

The agreement was made that the family would leave Vietnam for the United States. The family was given a signal, a song they would listen for on the radio. Once they heard it, they were to leave immediately to a designated evacuation point. For thirty days they listened.

“We had to keep it a secret,” says 37-year old Hau, mimicking the words his mother had told him. It wasn’t until later that he realized the gravity of what would have happened had he slipped and said something to someone. “If the South Vietnamese knew we were going to betray them and leave the country they would have killed us.”

Finally, on April 30, 1975, two days before the fall of democracy in Vietnam, nine-year-old Thai-tang, and his family heard Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas.” They each picked up their one allotted bag and left their house forever.

Thai-Tang is now living the American dream that the Mustang embodied for him the first time he saw it. Vehicles know success in the open retail market by their sales numbers, people know success in business by their achievements. Thai-Tang and the Mustang have been around for about the same amount of years and this year they both seem to embody the American success story.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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