Ford just released its first EV and it is fantastic. Called the Mustang Mach-E seems to get many things right. From branding to small surprises, the Mustang Mach-E seems to be a hit.
"We knew we had to do something different and something exciting and something only Ford could do," said Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford North America at a press event before Sunday's unveiling. I think she's right. The Mustang Mach-E is the ideal form of the mass-produced electric future. Henry Ford would be proud. This is an electric car for the masses.
It's a Mustang
It starts with branding. I hate it. The car in me is sad that a Mustang will soon be available in a four-door version. And electric. And the promise. It's not a Mustang, I'd say. A Mustang is a sports car. And yet, a Mustang is an affordable, reliable vehicle, which is exactly why Ford calls its first EV the Mustang.
Branding is crucial to the electrical future. Ford uses an established brand that resonates with buyers. Look for this again and again as the car companies unveil an electric version of current and past vehicles. An electric Ford F-1
Instead of inventing a new model line, which Chevy tried to do with Bolt, companies will look to convert known models to electric. The switch should provide more comfortable transitions. With Chevy Bolt, consumers understand that it is electric, but still left with new questions. How does the driver sit in a Bolt? Is a Bolt a Low Model? What will the resale value of a Bolt be in three years. With an established model, such as a Chevy Cruze, Buick Regal or BMW 3 Series, many of the questions are more easily answered. Consumers are familiar with the branding and the meaning behind the model.
With Mustang Mach-e, Ford takes many questions with just the name. Mach-e will be fast (it is), it will be small (it is a small crossover), and it will be competitively priced (at $ 40,000 it is).
For example, other companies such as Jeep, Honda and Subaru are likely to follow the same scheme. It is easier for the consumer to mix up the current brands. An electric Jeep Charake would be a capable, mid-range vehicle with a high ride height, sophisticated four-wheel drive and seating for five. An electric Honda Civic would be a small, affordable car while an electric Subaru Impreza would offer an electric drive on a car-based AWD platform.
Similarly, unnecessary questions arise about whether the Jeep or Honda or any other car company is bringing an EV to market under a new name.
There is a risk of using a legacy name. It can be offensive to die-hard and vocal enthusiasts. Ford gets setbacks with the Mach-e name. I find it offensive on a car level. It's not a mustang, I want to scream. When you take a step back, it's easy to see Ford's rationale.
Chevrolet released the Blazer last year and experienced a similar uproar. A blazer is supposed to be a beefy off-roader and not the small, sporty crossover of the current version.
The Mustang brand is arguably one of the most valuable Ford assets. It has been around for more than 50 years. Car companies invest wealth in building and marketing brands and models. It often takes generations to get consumer purchases, and at that point, car companies treat them with careful consideration. With the Mustang Mach-E, Ford must have plenty of data that shows an estimated success.
The simple interior
Mustang Mach-E follows Tesla Model language for Model 3: Large screen in the middle and not much else. Mach-E relies on the Model 3 to make it a little more tasty by including an LCD screen in front of the driver. The bolt did this too, but Chevy didn't go far enough. With Mach-E and Model 3, Ford and Tesla use smart manufacturing techniques, which are likely to be replicated across the automotive industry – for better or worse.
Each car manufacturer manufactures switches and rings and screens that are installed throughout the models. Some rubbish, in billingo. Switches are often shared between brands. A switch in Audi could find its way to a Lambo as both brands are in the VW family. This is done to reduce costs. Why create a different window switch for each brand when a window switch is a window switch?
Model 3 and Mach-E have no physical buttons in the center stacks. A massive screen handles climate control, media playback and more. Instead of making and installing multiple small switches, Ford, Tesla and other automakers use a single monitor to perform the same functions. This makes scaling across brands and markets easier. Suddenly, without buttons, car companies can reduce the number of parts, working time and troubleshooting for a single device. This makes it easier to build a car for different markets. Instead of building physically in another language or running the other side of the road, car companies must reject the software.
This one-screen setup needs the right software, and Mach-E is the first to demonstrate Ford's Sync 4 system. It looks good to me with persistent climate controls and a logical design. Is it functional? I haven't used it yet.
Fortunately, there is still a physical knob: Volume control. The volume should always be controlled by a spinning knob instead of a sliding rod. Always.
These screens offer car companies to further integrate branding into vehicles. Expect Lincoln models to use similar software, but with a different design scheme than Ford models. Similarly, the Acura software will be similar to Honda's, but with a more sporty, exclusive feel.
The small surprises
Mach-E has several surprises, and that is thanks to the electric platform.
The majority of most vehicles on the market right now are running electrical systems based on a decade old system. It is limiting even if car manufacturers push it as far as it can go. The transition to electrical opens up countless opportunities for designers and engineers. Features and details that were imaginative are now possible.
Mach-E does not have traditional door handles. Instead, it has small buttons that release the doors. What happens when the battery dies? For the most part, this is highly unlikely as Mach-E's electrical system does not depend on a traditional battery and generator.
Mach-E has a front-mounted storage area – a frunk if you will. These are standard features on most electric cars. Ford did something new, however, and made the Mach-E's plastic and added a drain plug. This allows the owners to pack it full of ice and store the drinks in frunk.
With electric vehicles, automakers can open their playbooks and implement brand-specific features. Jeeps should get more Jeep-ie. Lexus models should be able to stand out from Toyota colleagues and so on. The electric platforms are fundamentally simpler than combustion systems that free engineers and designers to be more creative with the creature's comfort.
The disadvantage of these new features based on a new platform will come in a few years when repairs need to be performed. It is unlikely that most owners will be able to diagnose and fix systems such as current vehicles. Instead, owners must rely on service centers for car repairs that will look more like IT stores than garages.
Right now, this is a problem I have with my aging Chevy Volt. I live in Michigan, where Volt was designed and built. I take it to one of the largest Chevy dealers in the country for service, where there is only one technician certified to work on the vehicle. Repairs take much longer than I would like, and this problem is likely to compound as more complex cars come on the market. Vehicle technologies need to be retrained, and lower-cost third-party service centers are likely to hang on to expensive dealers.
It's an electric future
Mustang Mach-E is an EV done right. Ford took lessons from Tesla, Chevy and others with their first mass-produced electric vehicles. The Mach-E naming is unconventional at first glance, but a closer reveal reveals its logic. The interior is exciting and yet scalable, and the model is full of surprises that will delight and frustrate owners.
Gradually, the car landscape will be filled with similar models such as Mach-E: recycled branding, higher ride height, and unique features around simple interiors.
It has been said that the transition to electric will produce obsolete-looking vehicles. That's probably the short-term result when car manufacturers seem to be taking advantage of well-known shapes and brands to get consumers on board. When consumers are comfortable with electric, that's when the real fun begins. Expect the next generation of Mustang Mach-E to be something more worth the Mustang name.