Ford’s extraordinarily average all-electric SUV succumbs to aping Tesla
According to Ford, its new SUV is inspired by the archetypal Mustang, although Iain Robertson reckons that the Mach E will be its ultimate Marmite machine, to be lauded equally by Ford fans, as much as it will be ridiculed for being a virtual Tesla rip-off.
Throughout its history, Ford Motor Company has tried all forms of motive power, from battery-electric and horse manure, to various forms of fossil fuels. It is not a newcomer to any fuel source. However, the US giant, under assault from both Germany (VW Group) and Japan (Toyota Corporation), is not in the finest fettle. Its world market share has been chipped away by rivals and a series of major management errors made towards the end of the last Century not only whacked its confidence but dented its financial strength.
A sometime major player in the UK, having produced both cars and commercials in big numbers for more than seven decades, what remains is little more than a sales and marketing operation, since its manufacturing operations were relocated to various points of the European mainland. In truth, it is amazing that its annual registrations appear to hold its UK No.1 brand status as usefully as they do…but it is a parlous, heavily-funded position, not helped by a loss of faith from its core customer base.
As Ford has drawn-in its horns, an increasing number of its new models seem to be US-inspired and even built at plants in both North and South America. While its domestic business is moderately buoyant thanks to strong local representation, it remains a world player and is obliged to satisfy the demands of its other markets. Yet, it is also confronted by the friability of those markets, the unrelenting march of the Oriental brands and the advent of the electric vehicle scene, for which Ford was simply not ready.
Most car companies love the prospect of harbouring an icon in their midst. For Ford that model is undoubtedly Mustang, revered for its star turn in the Steve McQueen movie ‘Bullitt’ but also beloved in both classic original and its more modern iterations. To be frank, I cannot imagine its electric SUV delivering a similar guttural soundtrack. The car that started the Pony Car, ‘Coke bottle profile’, US sporting coupe sector was always a car of its time, which makes its latest development as vitally contemporary as Mustang ever could be, being both SUV and fully electrified.
Known as Mach-E, it is important for the company’s timeline, as its first plug-in EV. In fact, it is the first of 14 new EVs due from the company before the end of 2020. Ford will be shockingly busy next year. Powering all four wheels is a choice of either 75.7kWh (288 cells), or 98.8kWh (376 cells) Lithium-ion battery packs. This is the equivalent of up to 455bhp and an equally impressive 613lbs ft of torque, which could be described fairly as traditional Ford ‘muscle car’ outputs…with the notable difference of emitting very little noise at all, for a total range of up to 370 miles (WLTP figures).
With three delivery modes (Whisper, Engage, or Unbridled) for the driver to tap into, progress will range from stately to wild, with an accompanying (if desired) soundtrack, and a capability of cracking the 0-60mph blast in a cool 4.4s, topping out in excess of 150mph. Fortunately, Brembo’s finest brakes, featuring an all-new Flexira aluminium calliper system, control the speed and, with energy recovery, assist in replenishing the battery pack of the 2.2-tonne SUV. Naturally, the Mustang Mach-E can be recharged domestically, or at almost any public recharging system, using the supplied cables, with supercharging taking around 38 minutes for a 0-80% charge. However, do not be gulled by any marketing overstatements, as these figures can be beaten by a Tesla.
Its spacious, if American, cabin can accommodate up to five adults comfortably, with their personal belongings placed in either the front boot, or through the hatchback (402-litres), which can be expanded by folding forwards the rear seat backs to create a 1,420-litres load space. The dashboard will offer Tesla familiar hardware, thanks to an enormous touchscreen in the centre, with a smaller read-out block for immediate information placed just behind the low-set steering wheel. A Bang & Olufsen hi-fi system is installed, while a full-length glass sunroof that provides protection from both infra-red and ultra-violet rays creates an airy cabin environment.
Access and start-up are provided using a mobile-phone app, with back-up means, should the mobile unit’s battery die; fortunately, it can be recharged using the pad in the centre console. Featuring the most up-to-date connectivity that is also upgradable, is not dissimilar to the Tesla offering. While the Mach-E does possess a few Mustang styling cues, remove the badges and you could be looking at and driving a new Tesla, which will provide either a genuine comfort zone for some owners, or bemusement for others.
When I first heard about ‘the-all-new-Mustang-inspired-SUV’, a wee shudder went up my spine. The cliché effect is all-pervading and, in some ways, has the prospect of devaluing the entire Mustang image. When I first saw the Mustang Mach-E, I have to state that I was more than a little disappointed. The actual styling cues are limited to aspects of the lamp units and some of the blanked-off front grille outline. The rest of the car is anodyne and sorely lacking in inspiration…other than what it has received from Tesla.
To be thrust into headlong competition with Tesla is surely a terrifying prospect, even for a car firm like Ford. In all ways, for Ford to compete, it has to be significantly better than its key rival; on first acquaintance, it misses the mark. Although unconfirmed at the time of writing, it is suggested that the Mach-E will be markedly less costly than the £100k Tesla. It will need to be, to make any early market impact.
Conclusion: Ford will announce prices and final specifications nearer to the UK launch in 2020 and the fact that it is a Ford and notionally a Mustang will do its future prospects no harm at all. However, it is late to the party, even though it is still early days in reality.