- The Mustang Mach-E was unveiled in late 2019 and went on sale in 2020.
- Ford made a concerted effort to make sure the SUV — the first new Mustang vehicle since 1965 — was a true Pony Car.
- “The whole point was to be desirable, to play to our strengths and make people wondrous,” Darren Palmer, Ford’s global product development director for electric vehicles, said in an interview with Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Tesla proved that electric cars could be more than glorified golf carts. By making its vehicles fast and sexy, CEO Elon Musk’s upstart has become the most valuable automaker in the world and posted record 2020 sales, just short of half a million units.
But one of the remaining arguments in favor of gas-burning cars is that while they might not be as quick as Tesla’s fastest machines, they’re more fun. They’re about visceral thrills, emotion, heart.
Ford didn’t want to sacrifice that aspect of its 117-year history when it decided to take a very big plunge and make its first serious all-electric vehicle a Mustang. The Mach-E was unveiled in late 2019 and went on sale in 2020. And, as I discovered when I drove it around for a few days, it’s every bit a Pony Car. And that’s just what the folks in Dearborn wanted it to be.
“The whole point was to be desirable, to play to our strengths and make people wondrous,” Darren Palmer, Ford’s global product development director for electric vehicles, said in an interview with Insider.
The Mach-E, in his view, is both beautiful and compelling, and the four-door-hatchback with a dashing stallion on the grille does appeal to the head. “But the heart is first,” he said.
A market that’s headed for commodification — and Ford’s plan to stand out
EV sales are currently meager globally, at only about 2% of the total yearly market. But experts, analysts, and increasingly the car companies themselves expect significant growth over the next decade. Deloitte, for example, anticipates that EVs could make up more than 30% of the market by 2030.
Swamy Kotagiri, the new CEO of Magna International, a parts supplier, and the world’s biggest contract vehicle manufacturer, told Insider that EV worldwide penetration would hit 25% by the end of the decade, and investors in Tesla, having bid the company’s market cap above $600 billion, are counting on the 2020s being the critical period when the gas-powered car begins its steady decline.
Palmer has a good sense of where the incipient market is headed. And how Ford can stand out in a soon-to-be-crowded field, with dozens of EVs arriving in the next few years.
“Electric cars will become a commodity,” he said. “We’re hoping to be different from that — to bring emotion to the electric space and to make our own way.”
Enter Mach-E, the first addition to the Mustang lineup since the icon’s introduction in 1965. It would have been headline-catching if Ford had simply dropped an electric powertrain in the current Pony Car.
But a really fast two-door with decades of history behind it wouldn’t necessarily have been a competitive product. Over half the US automaker is now small and midsize SUVs, while sports coupés like the Mustang constitute less than 2%, according to data gathered by Experian. Ford already sells a lot of SUVs, and thus it already knew it made sense to go electric in that segment.
It’s hardly alone. Tesla is selling two SUVs, General Motors has the Chevy Bolt EV hatchback, and most other new EVs are based on SUV and crossover platforms, such as the Audi e-Tron and the Jaguar I-PACE.
So Ford had to figure out a way to make its electric SUV something special, a vehicle that would stand out among a growing herd.
“They make you feel good,” Palmer said of Mustangs. (He’s an owner.) “Nobody has ever felt less happy when they drove one.”
Making an electric SUV into a real Mustang
As a practical matter, that meant infusing Mach-E with Mustang DNA — the “feel, sound, energy, and motion,” as Palmer put it.
“We put in a huge effort when we made the car a Mustang,” he said of a vehicle that starts at $42,895 for the base model and rises to $60,500 for the high-performance GT and its sub-four-second 0-60 mph time. The chassis is exceptionally stiff, for example, and it was tuned using Ford’s racing simulator in North Carolina, where actual race-car drivers hone their skills.
Palmer noted that with a full $7,500 federal tax credit, the base Mach-E is about $35,000, and the sticker price can drop even lower if additional state incentives are applied.
“We’re very proud of that,” he said. “We’re trying to move the game forward here and tempt people into an electric vehicle who might not be ready yet.”
Ultimately, he has so much confidence in the Mach-E that his sales pitch is quite simple.
“Go get one,” he said.