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Mustang gamble one of several big plays for Ford as it enters 2020

Can the Mustang Mach-E deliver new CASE technology excitement for Ford as it enters the new decade? By Martin Kahl

Ford’s presence at CES 2020 is dominated by one thing: its all-new electric vehicle, but the automaker’s highly controversial decision to put a Mustang on the front of a battery electric coupe-SUV kicked up more than just a little dust when it unveiled the Mach-E in November at the 2019 LA Auto Show.

Strategy update: Ford Motor Company – 2020 edition

Some saw the move as the ultimate symbol of modernisation, hauling the gas guzzling muscle car marque—and with it, the whole brand—into a new age of propulsion; others were baffled by the idea of inviting an electric, four-door family tourer into the same stable as the company’s iconic nameplate.

The Mach-E—which derives its name from the Mustang Mach 1 performance line of the late 1960s—is a highly significant product for Ford, intended to take the automaker closer to where its shareholders want it to be. Much has been said about Ford’s supposed transition from ‘Motor Company’ to ‘Mobility Company’, and former Chief Executive Mark Fields was ultimately unseated for perceivably being too slow to bring CASE (connected, autonomous, shared and electric) products to market. His successor, Jim Hackett, will benefit from the high tech nature of the Mach-E; Hackett came into post with great promise, having previously served as Chairman of Ford’s Smart Mobility division, but the automaker has since struggled in its attempts to define itself as a new mobility champion, winding down its faltering Chariot shared mobility operation and admitting that autonomous vehicle technology is more challenging than previously recognised.

Ford Mustang Mach-E LA Auto Show 2019
Ford’s decision to put a Mustang on the front of a battery electric coupe-SUV kicked up more than just a little dust when it unveiled the Mach-E at the 2019 LA Auto Show

Ford has staunchly defended its decision to use the Mustang nameplate, underlining the Mach-E’s development by the Mustang team, and that, far from being a compliance vehicle, the Mach-E is a high performance battery electric vehicle (BEV) offering on an all-new dedicated platform that both leverages and broadens the appeal of the Mustang marque.

Either way, gambling with the Mustang nameplate was a bold decision indeed, and one whose success can only be measured on sales. Early signs are good: Ford claims that customer reservations on the Mustang Mach-E First Edition are full, although no numbers have been published for how many people paid the refundable US$500 deposit. Customers will be able to get their hands on the Mexican-built Mustang Mach-E model range in 2020, the first BEV of the company’s US$11bn campaign to launch 40 electrified vehicles including 16 BEVs by 2022.

There is, of course, industry precedent; most of the leading high-performance vehicle lines have added SUV offerings, commented automotive industry analyst Jonathan Storey, adding: “In an era when Porsche, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and Aston Martin make SUVs, in some cases their best-selling models, why not?” And each of those automakers is planning varying levels of SUV electrification. Firmly in Ford’s sights will be Tesla, with the Californian automaker also preparing to launch its Model Y electric CUV in 2020.

Like all other automakers, Ford is under pressure to develop new and exciting CASE technology while supporting its existing activities. Several of its regional operations are undergoing substantial change and its global performance is under constant scrutiny—Ford’s output is significantly lower now than when it was one of the world’s largest automakers.

In January 2019, Ford and VW Group agreed to jointly develop CVs and pick-ups, and subsequently added the joint development of EVs and AV technology. Pictured: Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett with VW Group CEO Herbert Diess

“Ford’s global output has averaged 5.9 million units per annum over the last five years,” noted Storey, author of a new Automotive World report on the Dearborn-headquartered automaker’s model strategy. “This is some 20% below the peak year of 2000, when the company produced 7.4 million units. However, Ford going into 2020 is a substantially different entity to that of 20 years earlier, which included Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo Cars and its Mercury brand.”

Indeed, going into the new decade is a Ford substantially different to that of just five years ago, added Storey, the automaker having implemented much of its plan to quit the traditional sedan sectors in North America, and begun major restructuring of its Chinese, Indian, European and South American operations.

“In five years’ time, Ford plans to have evolved again, with a significant proportion of sales coming from the numerous electric models being launched as of this year, and those overseas operations restored to a sustainable profit.” In five years’ time, the Mach-E will also have been on sale long enough to give us clear visibility on the success—or otherwise—of Ford’s big Mustang gamble.

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