Ford’s Controversial Mustang Mach-E is a Game Changer
Ford’s sporty Mustang fun car has always been a trendsetter for the Ford Motor Company. Because Ford’s history is as unique as a human fingerprint, we’ve come to expect things from Ford no other car company has ever done. From the time Henry Ford founded the company in 1903, it was clearly different than any other car company. Mr. Ford was innovative in that he dared try things few others ever would. He pioneered the moving assembly line and produced millions of vehicles. Mass production made automobiles affordable for people and Ford made it happen.
Automobiles were no longer just a luxury for the wealthy, they became a necessity for mainstream America. Henry Ford’s vision and imagination fueled the American economic engine. He built a completely self-contained industrial empire that took raw materials and made products. His approach caught on quickly in every industry imaginable, which grew our industrial might.
In 1946 following World War II, Ford was on death watch facing bankruptcy when Mr. Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, took charge, hiring the legendary Whiz Kids, reinventing Ford overnight. These brilliant veterans and scholars cleaned up Ford’s bookkeeping and engineering—bringing car buyers the all-new 1949 Ford, the car that saved Ford Motor Company. There was also the new F-Series truck family in 1948, which solidified Ford’s position as a truck manufacturer. Although Mr. Ford was never easy, he was brilliant. He shook the ground and grew Ford Motor Company. Ford surrounded himself with incredible minds who understood his vision.
Fast forward to the 1960s and Baby Boomers coming of age along with the smarts of a young executive named Lee Iacocca. Iacocca’s demeanor could be compared to power braking a car. He was chomping at the bit to turn Ford from a stodgy car company to a pedal-to-the-metal operation with exciting products people wanted. When Ford President Robert McNamara left the company to become Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy Administration, it opened the door for Iacocca to let Ford’s hair down and don a racing jacket. Iacocca became a Ford vice president and head of the Ford Division.
Iacocca called Ford’s new era “Total Performance” and so it went. He took the Falcon carline and gave it a fastback roofline along with a convertible and optional V-8. The full-size Galaxie got a fastback roofline and an incredible line-up of powerful V-8 engines. It was time to pull back the stops and aim for the winner’s circle. Ford was going racing again. Iacocca was a visionary who gambled on what he believed would work. He pinned his career on baby boomer trends. He saw a market for an affordable sporty car that could be built on an existing platform priced at roughly one dollar per pound. What’s more, he had to get it done in 18 months. If it failed, he’d be on the street. In the end, Iacocca’s gamble became the 1965 Ford Mustang, which was introduced April 17, 1964. Mustang answered the call of a growing marketplace that did not yet exist—the pony car market.
People bought Mustangs for reasons they could not even fathom. For some, Mustang was a second car. For others, it was a third car because people just had to have one. Mustang has always been a carline that has evolved with the times. With each major design change traditional Mustang enthusiasts have lamented the changes. It was too large. It was too small. It looked too Japanese. It didn’t have enough power. You name the grievance, traditional Mustangers have had it. Some introductions have been more successful than others. Regardless, Mustang has been the company’s largely successful flagship for approaching six decades because it has kept up with the times.
Although the downsized 1974-78 Mustang II gets a lot of rotten tomatoes from enthusiasts, it was the right car at the right time. Ford sold over a million Mustang IIs in four years. Someone surely liked them. And honestly, Mustang II was a terrific car to drive. It was a vastly improved Mustang from an engineering standpoint with great vibration and road boom isolation. It was comfortable. And, it had a very solid feel and handled well. There were a lot of good reasons to buy them. What’s more, Mustang II kept a great name alive. Mustang only got better with time and commitment.
Despite its great success through the years, Mustang is facing something of a crisis in declining sales figures. The same can be said for Chevrolet’s Camaro and the Dodge Challenger/Charger. All are pony cars and sport sedans facing critical change in the marketplace. Fewer buyers want pony cars. Ford has always gambled the house for what it perceived would be successful and the Mustang is no exception. When the Mustang faced extinction in the late 1980s a gutsy Ford executive, John Coletti, presented Ford management with a plan to save Mustang and get it back on the beam on a shoestring budget. The result was the 1994 Mustang, which resembled the original classic, built on a Fox-4 platform.
Mustang’s retro look is cool, however, Ford has found retro doesn’t sell. The redesigned SN-95 1994-04 Mustang had broad appeal. However, it wasn’t breaking any sales records. In 2005, Ford tried the retro look again with the S-197 Mustang. It started off well, however, sales went into a freefall. The same can be said for the 2015-19 S550 Mustang, which started off strong, but has gone soft over time.
When sales figures fall well below 100,000 units annually, a car company has tough decisions to make. Recently, Ford unveiled the new Mustang Mach-E electric sport utility vehicle, which was both exciting and disturbing to the Mustang masses. Traditional Mustangers hate it for its name—MUSTANG. Those ready to embrace Ford’s future are thrilled with it. They like the idea of an environmentally responsible electric vehicle from Ford Motor Company.
If you’re a baby boomer who feels like Ford has passed you by take heart. It is time to make way for the coming generations who will have buying power in the years ahead and keep the Mustang name alive. To understand Mach-E you must first become familiar with why it happened. Mach-E didn’t start out as a Mustang derivative. It began as Ford’s first real electric car—not a hybrid. As development of the Ford electric car ensued the team concluded the car lacked soul. It was a terrific electric vehicle, yet it just didn’t have the image it needed to have to be a game changer and sell like hotcakes.
What Ford’s electric car had going for it was a great team. Team Mach-E is a delicate balance of generations who love the Mustang’s great legacy yet know where it needs to go to remain alive. The team consists of millennials, Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers. Ford stylists sharpened their pencils and infused Mustang styling into the Ford SUV electric vehicle, which was when it came alive and had soul. It was an addition to an already proud family of exciting pony cars.
Where is the Mustang going from here? I will wager a prediction the traditional Mustang pony car will change with time because it’s not practical. People ask me why I don’t have a new Mustang in the driveway. My answer—because the Mustang isn’t a practical vehicle for me. My F-150 delivers on hauling capacity and comfort. My 1967 Mustang is plenty enough Mustang for me. Although I have nothing concrete from Ford to go on, I envision a Mustang SUV and a corresponding electric 2+2 pony for the time being. For us Mustang traditionalists, that’s a tough one to chew but I think inevitable due to changing moods in the marketplace.
You need to see Ford’s “Making The Mach-E,” documentary: (https://www.autoblog.com/2019/11/21/ford-mustang-mach-e-origin-story-naming-controversy-film/?fbclid=IwAR0n7U3lBglVVF21Iv2kABGdfp5cok8YaOWAglnJz7wBJfge6tLBQCCecWw)
which explains how the new Mustang Mach-E SUV came to be. Although Mach-E is disturbing for a lot of traditional Mustang old timers, it indicates where the market is going whether we like it or not. Ford put a lot of thought into its first electric vehicle. As you can see in this well-done Ford documentary, what people want is changing. Young people are less interested in the traditional Mustang pony car and more into practical function and protecting the environment. Even long-time Ford insiders have had to examine a changing market and where the Mustang market is going. Unless Ford pays serious attention to the development of exciting electric vehicles it will be left behind.