Here’s why Ford execs took the pony-sized leap
The debate will rage for a while: whether Ford’s new electric crossover should be part of the Mustang family. Outrage over Chevy attaching the Blazer name to a car-based SUV has largely died down and purists need a new focus for their outrage.
In Ford development labs in Dearborn and Detroit, the evolution of the Mach-E to its adoption of the Mustang name unfolded almost organically—it was not the goal from the outset. But in the minds of top brass and key engineers there is no debate—the first expansion of the Mustang family in 55 years is a thoroughbred.
“I’ve always said the Mustang brand should be bigger than it is,” said Moray Callum, vice president of design for Ford Motor Company. “A lot of people aspire to a Mustang. Now’s their chance. It meets their needs and still has the balls of a Mustang.”
So how did this happen?
Talk of a new electric vehicle goes back to 2014 under the leadership of former CEO Mark Fields. Ford was going to spend billions to get a number of electric vehicles on the road. Since then the plans have only become more ambitious, with pledges to spend more, increase the number of electrified models on the new platform, and give them more range than the initial plans and promises.
Tip of the spear is the vehicle unveiled amid much fanfare in Los Angeles ahead of the L.A. Auto Show: the 2021 Mustang Mach-E. Orders opened Sunday night and by the end of the event in L.A., in the Jet Center where Tesla does its work, there were more than 9,000 hand raisers in California. Customers were placing deposits in the middle of the night including the 66 would-be buyers in Oslo, Norway.
“The heart of the company’s on trial here,” said CEO Jim Hackett.
The project started life as a front-wheel-drive crossover based on the Fusion, and it was referred to as a “compliance vehicle” because it was designed to meet emissions regulations, offsetting the carbon footprint of an automaker focused on trucks and SUVs.
Then Fields was ousted and board member Hackett took over as CEO in 2017. The former Steelcase furniture exec is not a car guy and was an acquired taste inside the Glass House, but he had only been on the job about a month when he torpedoed the milquetoast electric vehicle that was taking shape. Ford needed to make a statement with its new electric vehicle, and had to do it fast because the clock was ticking and the program was already underway.
To get the juices flowing, Jim Farley, then president of Global Markets and a well-known Mustang fan, told the team to use the Mustang as inspiration for a more exciting crossover design. He sees the move as helping save sports coupes in an electric future by redefining them.
It clicked, said chief program engineer Ron Heiser. It clicked with the designers. It clicked with the engineering team. “We know how to engineer a Mustang, but now the trick is to do it as a battery electric crossover sport utility vehicle,” Heiser said.
The team already had a battery-electric architecture with a targeted 300-mile (483-km) range. But the vehicle took a complete 180-degree turn, starting with the move from front-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive.
They used the Mustang’s ride and handling team. And because the pivot to rear-drive and Mustang-like handling was made late in the game, the Mach-E program used Ford’s racing simulator in Charlotte, North Carolina, for some of the early development. The vehicle benefitted from experts such as Dave Pericak who worked on the last Mustang and had wrapped up a stint as global director of Ford Performance. He was moved into a new job so he could work on this important project.
Officially the new mission was a “Mustang-inspired” electric SUV, but Heiser and his team quickly dropped the word “inspired” from their mandate. “We just treated it like it was a Mustang,” he told MotorTrend.
When development got to a point where the team believed the vehicle was credible enough to wear the pony badge, the team went to senior management for a review.
Pericak was one of the people that Bill Ford, executive chairman, insisted sign off before the car acquired the Mustang name. Bill Ford has had a stable of personal Mustangs over the years and was not an easy sell either. To wear the badge, the vehicle needed to look and drive like a Mustang and have the soul of a Mustang, Ford said. And it is not designed to replace the Mustang, but to expand the family.
“I was not initially convinced,” Pericak said. He had put the car into the racing simulator and it wasn’t at the level of driving needed. “It was on the verge of Mustang but I said it’s not a Mustang,” he said to a gaggle of long faces. He outlined the issues he found. The team stiffened the body, changed bushings and springs, and continued to tune.
“I’m 100 percent convinced it is a Mustang now,” Pericak said.
By the end of 2018, everyone was pretty well aligned. Heiser was among those who met with Bill Ford to get his blessing and it became official: The Mach-E would be a Mustang. It will go on sale in late 2020. Improvements and tuning will continue, but the car is a Mustang, Pericak said. “I stand behind it all day long.”
With each pivot—from regular crossover to Mustang-inspired SUV to the latest Mustang—the excitement within the team went up, said Heiser. So did the pressure, “because you gotta live up to that pony.”
The rear-drive Mach-E has a large motor between the rear axles and delivers 255 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque with the standard battery size. Adding a small motor to the front gives it all-wheel-drive capability, and performance increases to 255 hp and 417 lb-ft. The base Mach-E with AWD (also known as the Mack-E 4) will be faster from 0-60 mph than a Porsche Macan base model, the Ford team says.
Replacing the small motor up front with one as big as the one in the back creates two GT performance versions. On these bad boys, the GT badge replaces the pony on the back of car.
The GT will sprint from 0-60 mph in less than four seconds, and it will make 459 hp and 612 lb-ft of torque. Ford executives say it will be faster off the line than the Macan Turbo.
The second variant, the GT Performance Edition, will hit 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, taking on the Porsche 911 GTS. It adds a MagneRide damping system and adaptive suspension.
There are two battery pack options. The flat battery pack for the standard range is expected to have a range of 230 miles (370 km) with rear-drive and 210 miles (338 km) with AWD. Adding a second tier of batteries to the back of the pack (under the rear seats) for the extended range boosts that to about 300 miles (483 km) of range, and the badging adds an “x.” The figures are estimates; the vehicle has not yet received its EPA certification.