Published on December 2nd, 2019 | by Paul Fosse0
Ford Mustang Mach-E — Why Ford Made The Right Choices
December 2nd, 2019 by Paul Fosse
In this article, I’ll try to summarize some of the challenges Ford faced developing the Mustang Mach-E, a little of the controversy over naming it a “Mustang,” and why I think Ford made the right choices for the most part. But before I get to that, the timing of the unveiling was probably unfortunate.
For a while last week, the Ford Mustang Mach-E announcement seemed like it was the biggest electric vehicle story of the month of November, maybe even of the year. Then Elon Musk said, “hold my beer,” and really broke the interwebs with the Cybertruck unveiling. If Ford could have unveiled it a little earlier or later, the company might have gotten a little more buzz. The Cybertruck sucked all the air out of the room when it was unveiled. Well, I’m out of thoughts on the Cybertruck for a bit, so time to give the Ford Mustang Mach-E some much deserved attention and buzz. Even though I’m certainly a Tesla fanboy, I do enjoy writing about other vehicles that are actually interesting and not just compliance cars. I also feel I have an obligation to cover other vehicles if they are significant enough to “move the needle.”
Before the unveiling of the Mach-E, Ford had a big problem. It had been a leader in the plug-in electric vehicle market in 2013 with the unveiling of the C-Max Energi (I’ve owned 2) and the Fusion Energi. Then (at least from the outside) the market saw nothing from Ford. No enhancements or incremental improvements, no expansion to other vehicles, no pure EVs. It seems Ford was more focused on discontinuing sedans and wasting money doing minor redesigns of its crossovers, SUVs, and pickups that don’t change enough to really matter. Who is going to buy a new vehicle just because the new one is 5% better when their old one is running fine? That works fine after a recession when many of the vehicles are old and in poor repair, but doesn’t work that well after a 10 year expansion in which everyone who needed a new vehicle has already purchased one. Teslas (and other innovative EVs) don’t have this issue, since they are much better in some ways (like running costs, technology, and performance) and worse in others, but face little competition from the owner’s existing vehicles.
My Experience With 3 Large Companies
I’ve worked at 3 large companies that were very resistant to change. First at IBM — it had a great number of rules to manage its operation. When a disruptive technology came in the early ’80s (the Apple and other personal computers), IBM used a totally separate business unit to formulate a response (the IBM PC). They felt (and I agree) that if the PC had to follow all of IBM’s regular processes, it never would have been released in time to be competitive.
Later, I worked at Lucent (a spinoff of AT&T) during the late ’90s boom, and although our division did well, the company imploded as phone companies migrated their purchases to buy computer networking gear (Cisco and others) instead of phone switching gear. Lucent attempted to get in on this by buying many promising startup providers of networking gear, but they poorly managed the acquisitions, so the founders of the startups just cashed in on their more liquid equity and left as the ship sunk. The remains of Lucent merged with Alcatel in 2006 and became a division of Nokia in 2016.
I worked for Verizon for a period of time and they have muddled through the transition from a voice phone company to an internet and mobile service provider.
In my experience, it is very hard for a large company to transition to a new technology. It breaks so many of the rules that have been developed and is fought by many powerful people in the organization. Older people in the organization would rather just continue doing their jobs for a few more years and retire than endorse the radical changes and cutbacks needed to move to the new technology. IBM and Verizon have found a way to survive radical transitions in their respective industries. Although, their growth hasn’t been anything great. Lucent wasn’t able to survive.
As Jennifer Sensiba wrote in this article, Ford created a small skunkworks organization (Team Edison) in separate buildings and kept it mostly disconnected from Ford’s rules and processes. It looks like they looked at what Tesla had done with the Model 3 and decided it made sense, so they copied a lot of the things Tesla did right. Things like a skateboard battery, a choice of one or two electric motors, over-the-air updates, a charging network, a large center touchscreen, a roomy interior, great acceleration and handling. According to this tweet by a Detroit News reporter, they only secured enough batteries to make 50,000 the first year:
FYI: Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of automotive, said at an event tonight in LA that Ford will produce about 50,000 Mustang Mach-E vehicles in the first year of production. “Limited,” he said, because of battery availability.
— Ian Thibodeau (@Ian_Thibodeau) November 20, 2019
That is enough to beat all the other EVs worldwide except the Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model Y, BAIC EC-Series, and Nissan Leaf. But I think they can ultimately sell 2 to 10 times that volume if they market it well and continue to enhance it. If they just make them for 5 or 10 years with no enhancements like they did the C-Max, it won’t do well as time goes on and other cars exceed its capabilities and style.
The Mustang Name Issue
A lot of Mustang enthusiasts aren’t happy that Ford used the Mustang name on an electric crossover. The truth is that if the Mustang brand survived the Mustang II of the ’70s, it will be fine with the addition of a fabulously designed and innovative Mach-E. There are 4 big opportunities they had with this decision and they took full advantage of all 4 in an aggressive fashion!
1. They wanted to shout to the world (without spending a billion dollars on advertising) that they are as serious as a heart attack with this new car. The Mustang is a huge asset to Ford and the ONLY car the company kept when it decided to pivot to SUVs and trucks last year (a decision that I think was short sighted). A few people still think that Ford is still just making a compliance car, but most are convinced that Ford is really serious (including most of the authors at CleanTechnica).
2. It isn’t just customers that needed to be convinced that Ford was serious. The team working on the car and the people at Ford who aren’t working on the car now realize this isn’t some side project like the C-Max — this is part of Ford’s core strategy. This increased the pressure on Team Edison employees to do their best and told the other people at Ford to either help or get out of the way. I’ve been on plenty of projects in large companies and everyone knows what the important projects are and what the side projects are. The important projects get the majority of the promotions, awards, and management attention. That helps you draw the best and brightest people.
3. Ford took the chance to make a leading-edge electric vehicle that has great acceleration, handling, fuel economy, styling, hands-free driving, over-the-air updates, and, most importantly, is affordable and accessible to average people. I’m a huge Tesla Model 3 and Model Y fan, but this car is the first one that has tempted me to buy it instead of the Model Y (I’m sticking with the Model Y because I think it is more likely to get full self driving faster than the Mach-E). This car will convert many people from gas cars who would not be comfortable in a Tesla. Ford had to make it an electric vehicle because electric vehicles are the future and executives wanted to take their valuable Mustang brand into the future!
4. Why did Ford have to make it a crossover? Why didn’t they just make an electric Mustang? Because they could without compromising. The reason the Mustang has never been able to have a decent backseat or cargo room is that if you add that to a gas car, it makes it top heavy, gives it poor handling, and makes it slow. The heavy-battery EVs that use the skateboard design (like the Mach-E and all Tesla designs) keep the weight low and allow great handling (if properly tuned). Tesla has shown that EVs don’t have to be slow to get great economy. Sure, it would have been more popular with some Mustang enthusiasts if Ford had taken the easy choice to just design a small, sporty Mustang EV, but Ford is facing a traumatic disruption to its industry. Every new design has to cover as much competitive space as possible and there is no money to spare. I’m thrilled that Ford took the bold but necessary step to design the Mach-E as a crossover that kills 2 birds with one stone. It makes a great sporty Mustang for any young guy or girl who can just ignore the back seat. It doesn’t look like a soccer mom vehicle (i.e., a minivan). But if you are a soccer mom (or dad), you can use this car to transport your kids and soccer equipment to your games!
On all 4 issues, Ford took the hard, risky, but ultimately correct choice, and I applaud them for that.
I would tell you to get your order in before they are sold out, but it appears the first year of production is already sold out! You can still reserve the other 4 editions coming out in 2021. Since it appears this will be a popular car for sometime to come, if it speaks to you, maybe you should reserve it now to encourage Ford to expand production as it is able to and reserve your place in line.