DETROIT – The Mustang Mach-E is a groundbreaking vehicle for Ford Motor that marks the beginning of a new-generation of all-electric vehicles and the first time the iconic name has been used on anything but a two-door pony car.
Ford is betting the Mustang name will resonate with consumers and assist the company's first all-electric SUV in standing out in an increasingly crowded field. It's a bold decision that could dilute the Mustang name if unsuccessful. There's also chance of political backlash since the vehicle is being produced in Mexico and imported to the U.S.
"Car shoppers typically place little importance on where a vehicle is built, but the Mustang Mach-E will be debuting in the midst of a highly contentious election cycle where automotive manufacturing jobs and plant locations could present a ripe opportunity for political grandstanding," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of Industry Analysis at auto research firm Edmunds.
Ford previously confirmed production of the vehicle would be south of the border, however that was before it became a Mustang. Importing such a well-known American name to the U.S. could be risky amid President Donald Trump's America-first policies and ongoing negotiations of a new North American trade deal.
Trump, many times through Twitter, has attacked automakers for importing vehicles from Mexico, China and other countries. He also earlier this year attacked Ford and other automakers for not supporting his administration's plan to roll back Obama-era fuel efficiency rules.
American automakers have traditionally attempted to keep well-known American vehicles such as Mustang, Chevrolet Corvette and Jeep Wrangler in the U.S. because it's part of their appeal.
Ford's crosstown rival, General Motors, received significant backlash, mainly from politicians and unions, for its decision to resurrect the Chevrolet Blazer, a well-known American SUV for decades, and import it from Mexico.
"The last thing Ford wants is for one of its new vehicles to be swept up in such a polarized political environment, especially when big competitors like Tesla can emphasize that their vehicles are American-made," Caldwell said.
Ford spokesman Mike Levine said the Mustang Mach-E will live up to its storied name, while providing customers looking for a larger vehicle an option under the "Mustang family."
"This is a Mustang. It provides something Mustang customers are looking for," he said. "Now we have this great all-electric performance SUV that's the newest member of the Mustang family." Ford is expected to release additional details of the vehicle during its unveiling on Sunday.
Ford reiterated that the company is America's top producer of vehicles and the largest employer of UAW-represented autoworkers. More than 80% of the vehicles Ford sells in America are built in the U.S., including the Ford Mustang at its Flat Rock plant in Michigan.
While the Mustang is arguably even more of an American household name than the Blazer, many industry experts don't expect Ford to receive much pushback for its decision to produce the Mach-E at its plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico.
"As time goes on, the majority of consumers understand nationality about a brand more than they necessarily pay attention to production location," said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. "I don't think that it will help or hurt its acceptance overall."
Ford, according to Brinley and other experts, also is in a different position than GM was with the Blazer. When the Blazer was beginning to arrive in the U.S., it followed GM announcing plans to potentially shutter five North American plants and slash thousands of jobs.
"The Blazer was a totally different story. That was all about jobs," said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader. "Generally speaking, people don't care where vehicles are made. They don't generally know where their vehicles were made."
Mustangs being produced outside of the U.S. isn't unprecedented but it hasn't occurred in several decades. Early generations of the pony car were produced in U.S., Mexico and Venezuela. It's unclear whether those vehicles were imported to the U.S.
Ford, unlike many of its competitors, plans to leverage existing nameplates such as Mustang and F-150 for all-electric vehicles rather than spend time and money on creating awareness for new vehicles.
Such a strategy assists in many ways but also could cause backlash from traditional Mustang enthusiasts and create confusion among buyers, according to analysts.
"I understand what they're doing. They're trying to leverage the Mustang name, which is highly recognizable," Krebs said. "However, I think it is going to cause some confusion."
Differentiating the all-electric SUV from its pony car will be key to Ford's messaging, something Caldwell believes the company is achieving thus far.
"There always is a risk, however when you look at something like a Mach-E, it is very different than a Mustang," she said. "Having an electrified SUV is a lot different than a performance internal combustion engine. From a product standpoint, there's a big difference."
The global unveiling of the Mustang Mach-E is scheduled for Sunday in Los Angeles, days ahead of its public debut at the LA Auto Show.