LOS ANGELES – Ford Motor took inspiration from the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus when developing the 2021 Mustang Mach-E, which made its global debut earlier this week.
But engineers and designers weren't told to benchmark the vehicles.
Instead, the vehicles were examples of what not to do for Ford's first all-new EV under an $11 billion plan to develop 40 new all-electric and hybrid models by 2022, according to officials. Ford viewed the cars as "compliance vehicles" that were produced to meet government regulations, not inspire passion for consumers to consider an EV.
"We gave them a mission: not just to make an electric car but to make a great electric car," said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford during the Mach-E's unveiling Sunday. "But I got to admit, when they came to me and said they can make an electric Mustang, I was pretty skeptical … You don't mess with an icon."
The idea of a Mustang SUV would have been sacrilegious years ago, but the company eventually felt the vehicle was worthy of wearing the iconic pony badge. It also was a way for the SUV to stand out in an increasingly crowded field of EVs, including Tesla's highly-anticipated Model Y.
"Winning will not be driven by compliance," said Ted Cannis, Ford global director of electrification, during a media briefing. "If you're just a compliance (EV), you're going to get killed."
Before the decision to make it a Mustang, Ford was benchmarking the vehicle as a "compliance" EV, according to company officials. But that changed after Ford CEO Jim Hackett took over the automaker in May 2017 and tapped Jim Farley as president of global markets, which included the company's EV plans.
That change in direction included scrapping the compliance EV, which was initially a redesigned Focus sedan EV that had been turned into a crossover, according to officials and design renderings shared by the automaker. In June 2017, it was decided the vehicle would be "Mustang-inspired," a direction put in motion by Farley.
"We thought if you want to modernize Ford, what's a better product to start with than Mustang? We said, 'Let's try to create an electric Mustang,' " Farley said during the vehicle's unveiling Sunday outside of Los Angeles.
Modernizing the company meant benchmarking and competing against EV-leader Tesla instead of the company's traditional competitors. Auto research firm Edmunds reports Tesla represented roughly 80% of all EVs sold in the U.S last year and through the first nine months of 2019. That's despite a flurry of new or redesigned EVs, many viewed as compliance models, entering the market.
Scrapping a project after years of development is always hard but connecting the vehicle to Mustang – the first time the iconic name has been used on anything but a two-door pony car – added a new layer of pressure, according to Ford executives.
"This thing had to be a hero," said Jason Castriota, Ford brand director for battery-electric vehicles. "We didn't want it to be eaten up."
The Tesla Model Y and Ford Mach-E are expected to feature similar pricing, performance specification and EV range when they arrive in the second half of 2020.
Once the direction of "Mustang-inspired" was set in motion, the team was given wide-ranging control of the product and set up operations away from Ford's global headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. to a small building in a historic Detroit neighborhood.
The small team was codenamed Team Edison. The team worked quickly and was given months, sometimes weeks, instead of years during different parts of the vehicle's creation.
As the team built the vehicle, it wasn't just about making the vehicle look like a Mustang. The vehicle had to feel like one or Bill Ford, a Mustang enthusiast, would not sign off on it. He said he gave the nod to call the vehicle a Mustang after driving it.
"When I drove it, I knew it had to be a Mustang," Ford told reporters after the unveiling. "But frankly, I was getting there before because I believed the team when they were laying all the specs out."
Top performance models of the Mustang Mach-E will achieve 0 to 60 mph in the mid-3-second range with an estimated 459 horsepower and 612 lb.-ft. of torque. That makes it faster off the line than a Porsche Macan Turbo and comparable to a Porsche 911 GTS. Other models are expected to have 0 to 60 mph times around six seconds.
Aside from its badging and performance, the Mach-E includes Mustang design aspects such as a long hood, rear haunch, aggressive headlights and trademark tri-bar taillamps. The grille of the vehicle also is cut out to resemble the pony car.
The vehicle, according to Ford, a known environmentalist, is a dream come true. He compared the importance of the Mach-E to his great-grandfather's Model T, a vehicle that brought affordable transportation to the middle-class.
"This is a Mustang for a new generation, but I also think longtime mustang fans like me will love it as well," Ford said. "What I'm most excited about is the lasting impact and what this means for the future of Ford Motor Co."