Is this The One? Is Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E the killer app, the tipping point, the savior of the US auto industry? We’ve been fooled too many times before to gush now, but we will say that Ford is putting some real money and prestige on the line this time. “We’ve pushed all our chips to the middle of the table,” Chairman Bill Ford told the New York Times. “I hope this will show we are now deadly serious about electrification.”
Ford has committed to investing $11 billion to add 40 electrified vehicles, including 16 pure EVs, to its global stable through 2022 (one caveat: many of these will debut in China). What’s more, it has put one of its most valuable assets – the Mustang brand – on the line. As the Times puts it, the Mustang Mach-E represents “Detroit’s biggest bet yet on a mass-market future for battery-powered cars.”
Bill Ford admits that the Mach-E started out as another compliance car. However, in 2017, with the advent of new CEO Jim Hackett (and of Tesla’s Model 3), the suits at Ford decided to take a bolder path. “What if we could deliver a vehicle that’s a rocket ship?” Mr. Ford asked. Soon a group called Team Edison was working on a fast and sporty electric SUV. Designers spent hundreds of hours in VR trying to improve on the generic crossover form by adding a dose of equine excitement. And at least from the design standpoint, they triumphed – all the car mags agree that the new EV’s visual cues say ‘Stang: a long hood, rear haunches, and instantly recognizable headlights and three-bar taillamps.
The Mustang mystique is designed to make Ford’s new EV stand out from the current crowd of ho-hum plug-in cars, and the company is determined to do its flagship vehicle proud. “You don’t mess with an icon,” Bill Ford said at the launch party. “It’s gotta drive like one, feel like one, have the soul of a Mustang.”
Ford’s designers didn’t neglect the sound. They analyzed decades’ worth of fantasy automotive sounds, from the Batmobile to Blade Runner to Formula E, and eventually settled on a “throaty acceleration note.” There’s also an unobtrusive hum at low speeds for pedestrian safety.
Tesla’s influence is clear, from the under-floor battery pack to the front storage compartment to the doors that open with a button push to the 15.5-inch touchscreen that controls most vehicle functions. Also clear is Ford’s challenge to Tesla, particularly to its upcoming Model Y, which is expected to offer similar specs and pricing to the Mach-E. (Another dimension in which legacy automakers are learning from Tesla: the Mach-E project went from design sketches to production tooling in just over a year, warp speed compared to the old auto industry norm.)
The unveiling event just happened to take place at the Los Angeles Jet Center, next door to the SpaceX HQ and Tesla design center in Hawthorne, California (a smiling Bill Ford said the choice of location was just “a coincidence”).
A presumably smiling Elon Musk tweeted his compliments: “Congratulations on the Mach E! Sustainable/electric cars are the future!! Excited to see this announcement from Ford, as it will encourage other carmakers to go electric too.”
Congratulations on the Mach E! Sustainable/electric cars are the future!! Excited to see this announcement from Ford, as it will encourage other carmakers to go electric too.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 18, 2019
Apparently, the hard feelings over Ford’s attempt to “kill sex” by preventing Tesla from using the name “Model E” (S-E-X-Y – get it?) are forgotten. Ford amiably tweeted back, “Thanks, Elon. We couldn’t agree more. See you at the charging station!”