For a while, it’s been a public secret that Ford has been working on a ‘Mustang-inspired’ SUV, but it wasn’t until last week that it became clear they were actually going to use the Mustang name on that vehicle as well. I think that may prove to be a mistake.
Using the iconic Mustang name on anything but an all-American muscle car with two doors, a big engine and rear-wheel drive is a risky bet and they should ensure the vehicle is worthy of that name. And looking at the spec sheet and the first pictures of the new electric crossover, I have no doubt that the Mustang Mach-E is an excellent vehicle, but it’s going to take something very special to live up to the name they gave it.
Considering this will be a completely new vehicle in an entirely new segment for the brand, one in which they have some catching up to do, there’s been a lot of pressure on the development and marketing teams, so I understand very well that they took some inspiration from one of the brand’s biggest icons, both in terms of design and in terms of what it stands for. But it also had given them the opportunity, if the car were good enough, to create an all new icon, based on new values without needing to lean on an existing one. See how Tesla came out of nowhere to become the benchmark for every other automaker in terms of EVs, just by getting the product right (in terms of design and features) and clever market positioning. They didn’t need any heritage, they created their own.
But the Mustang has tons of heritage (from crazy burnouts to supercharged tarmac eaters, in addition to a respectable presence in racing).
If the Mach-E turns out to be a mediocre car, or even a good car that just fails to offer something to become really passionate about, Ford risks shaming the Mustang’s heritage and diluting its strong brand. On the other hand, if the Mach-E turns out to be everything we expect from a car bearing such an iconic name, it would have become a hit no matter the name, letting its qualities to the talking, and it wouldn’t have needed the controversial name. Ford Mach-E would have worked just as well. Again, see Tesla.
There are only two reasons why I think they chose to put the Mustang name (and Pony badge) on this car, and neither one of them gives me much hope. First, it could be that Ford is planning to majorly capitalize on the heritage and marketing value of the Mustang brand, launching a whole range of cars under this name, basically turning it into its own brand. That would be a huge risk, one that not only requires a strong and uncompromising leader who keeps the bean counters away and guards the core values of the brand at any cost. Considering Ford’s history of handling premium brands (remember the Premium Automotive Group with Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin?????), and it being a large public company that has to be accountable for its return on investment every quarter instead of being able to play the long game, as required to do this right, I have my doubts they can pull this off. Again, if the product is right, the buyers will come anyway. And if the product is brilliant, a new heritage will be created for the future.
Another reason for using the Mustang name in the Mach-E is more short-term: to squeeze a few extra sales from this car, or perhaps to be able to raise the asking price, just because of its name. Now, I don’t think this was really their plan, because once again it’s a huge gamble to put such an iconic name at risk, but stranger things have happened. Besides, I really don’t think anyone is going to fall for this trick: the car will have to sell on merit, nobody will buy it only because it’s called Mustang.
Kriss’s counter view:
I have to say up front that the view I’m about to present is not really how I feel, but more of an attempt to think through why Ford did what it did. That said, I can imagine what Ford was thinking – these days, many cars, both good and bad ones, sell on the strength of their brand alone. More pertinently for Ford, though, many good cars don’t achieve success because they don’t have the right brand name, especially more expensive ones. Think of cars like Citroen XM and C6, the recent Ford Edge and Mondeo, Mazda 6, Renault Talisman, Rover 75. And, let’s be honest, the Ford brand is not exactly very strong these days, and the company knows it…
Mustang, though, is different. It’s a car that is often referred to simply as “Mustang” rather than “Ford Mustang”, much like people often simply say “Corvette”, rather than “Chevrolet Corvette”. That is both a blessing for Ford, which can continue to make and sell high-end Mustangs, but also a curse, as the halo element of the Mustang coupe does not really seem to rub off on the rest of the Ford range. Which is where the Mach-E comes in – rather than hope that the model can become a strong name on its own, Ford decided to give it a fighting chance by severing it from the Ford name. The options then were two-fold: make up a new name or excavate a defunct one (both of which Ford has a bad record with: think Edsel, Mercur or Vignale), or use an existing one. “Mustang” is not a perfect fit for an EV crossover, by any means, but it sure is a stronger name than Ford. Add to that the fact that the latest Mustang coupe’s design cues translate surprisingly well into the Mach-E’s front and sides, if not rear, and you can see method in Ford’s madness. Will it work? I have no idea, but I admire Ford’s ballsiness for trying something different!
Bart’s counter view:
On a less cynic note: during the oil crisis of the 1970s, the Mustang II was a reaction to the new reality of fuel economy and emissions regulations, but at that time and years after, the car wasn’t considered to be a real Mustang. Looking back, some of us can see that it was a necessary adaptation to those challenging times and we should be thankful that it helped the Mustang name survive that period. Perhaps looking back again a few decades from now, our next generation will once again see that the automotive industry in the 2020s was changing quickly and the Mustang name had to evolve in order to survive and continue making toys for grown up boys as well. Think Porsche, whose profits from SUVs, although regarded in disdain by purists of the brand, allowed the company to continue development on the iconic 911.
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