The Ford Mustang Mach-E—a fully electric SUV “inspired by” the famed two-seat coupe—debuted in Los Angeles Sunday night, kicking off what’s sure to be years of enthusiast debate about whether the high-riding four-door merits the name “Mustang,” in form or function.
The character and performance won’t come to light until the car arrives next year. But the Mach-E’s journey from non-existence to Sunday’s stage (with “brand ambassador” Idris Elba in tow), in just over two years, is an impressive start.
Minus a brief foray into fully electric propulsion in the first half of this decade with the Focus Electric, Ford has put its energy into hybrids. Meanwhile, Tesla, Nissan, Jaguar, BMW, General Motors, Porsche, Audi, Hyundai, and others built up the battery-powered market, rolling out zero emissions products in earnest. So it went until 2017, when the Ford higher-ups decided that EV tech, consumer interest, and regulatory reality had reached the point where it was time to do away with gasoline. They launched an internal effort called Team Edison, charged with producing the company’s first ground-up battery-electric vehicle.
Ford had already committed to dropping sedans from its lineup, so making an SUV—specifically the kind of crossover that flies off Ford lots—was a natural choice. Figuring out who would buy such a thing was trickier. “We decided to focus on the technology, and how it has really changed their world,” says Jason Castriota, Ford’s brand director for battery EVs. From his (perhaps rosy) point of view, “It’s either removing friction from your life or it’s amplifying something you really like.”
So Ford focused on catering to the kind of driver who expects new tech to deliver more of what they like and less of what they don’t. That came down to things like effortless access to charging stations: Ford has partnered with Electrify America and other suppliers to offer single-account access to all chargers, enabling up to 47 miles of range after just ten minutes on a 150 kW charger. The Mach-E will allow over-the-air updates like those common to Tesla cars. The new infotainment system includes a card-style presentation of options that can be shuffled around and accessed by a large physical dial integrated into the 15-inch central screen.
When it came to designing the thing, Team Edison gravitated to the Mustang, seeing in its enthusiast fanbase parallels to the EV crowd: People who want something exciting and different. After an internal “reality check” with market and customer research, they decided to brand the car as something inspired by the Mustang, giving it the Mach-E designation. So while it’s not an official Mustang, the SUV shares some of the pony car’s looks, including the low “shark” nose, longer dash-to-front-axle distance, big haunches, tri-bar tail lights, and the galloping pony logo.
Time was at a premium, so the design team relied on CAD tools that let them change the car’s look and shape on a screen, focusing less on clay. “We’d pop in sketches on a Monday, choose the one we wanted on Tuesday, build the CAD model on Wednesday, mill it on Thursday, then present it on Friday,” says design manager Chris Walter. When we closed in there was kind of the eureka moment. We saw the theme, the fluidity and sensuality that we knew this younger customer wants, and the visual strength that the Mustang needs. And it was also saying that it was electric.”
None of that would be worth much, though, if Ford couldn’t make the Mach-E a respectable, appealing electric vehicle. Ford has limited experience with fully electric cars, but applied plenty of hybrid know-how. And it’s no stranger to designing cars and eking more range out of svelte aerodynamics. Though the team hasn’t disclosed the final drag coefficient, it says it’s “absolutely thrilled” with the final product.