Ford's Mustang Mach-E game plan: Build an electric car people 'want and desire'

Gary S. Vasilash
·5-min read


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It is not unexpected nowadays for an automotive executive to claim some aspect of Apple as a model for what they’re doing, such as having a distinctive minimalist design language or an app-based monetization strategy.

But when Darren Palmer cites Apple, it is for an entirely different reason, one meant to advance the understanding of what Ford is working to accomplish with the Mustang Mach-E.

Palmer is one of the original members of Ford’s Team Edison, the group that was organized in 2017 to advance the development and adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). And today he is Ford's global director for BEVs, which means he is responsible for launching the portfolio of electrics Ford is rolling out, with the Mach-E in the vanguard. Palmer says he was in the room the day the Mach-E was conceived. 

The Apple analogy

So what about Apple? Palmer says that when the iPhone launched in 2007, not only was capacitive touchscreen technology a departure from the norm, but “they changed the use from what was merely a phone to an internet portal.” Yet while people saw the lack of buttons, the change in use case wasn’t recognized.

He recalls talking to people at the time and asking what they thought about the iPhone. The ordinary folk — not the tech enthusiasts — simply said that it was a phone without a keyboard, and then tended to add, “But you have to charge it every night, and my phone lasts three days.” In other words, they were not impressed. They saw the shortcomings, not what it could do.

Palmer says that when a friend or family member who was experienced with an iPhone demonstrated it — generally enthusiastically demonstrated it — to these same people and they then had a chance to try it, “They’d say, ‘Oh my word, why didn’t I try this before? This is a revelation to me.’

“Electric cars can be like that.”

Which is why the Mustang Mach-E is what it is.

Amplifying attributes

Palmer talks about “amplifying the attributes,” about making it clear what the functions and benefits are.

The Mach-E's development team was fully cognizant that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) weren’t a new thing. They also — through surveys conducted among BEV owners in places including California, Norway, Europe and China — discovered that it was important to create a “want” rather than a “must”: People needed to want the vehicle rather than be legislatively put in one.

“When people see the true benefits of electric vehicles, it drives that want and desire,” Palmer says.

“We want to pick up on early majority adoption,” Palmer says. This is not looking for a niche, it's looking for more. Which is one reason why the Mustang Mach-E is a small crossover: “We sell hundreds of thousand of them. They are very useful in people’s lives.” Putting the Mach-E into a form that has built-in demand removes an obstacle to acceptance.

Palmer also admits that battery technology — the Mach-E is available with 68-kWh and 88-kWh lithium-ion batteries — is such that batteries take up space that can be more readily accommodated by a small SUV than a small sports sedan. He says that at some point, battery density will allow packaging (and range) for a “more traditional sports coupe.”

A Mustang is a Mustang

One of the attributes that the Mach-E emphasizes is performance. “It is tuned to feel like rear-wheel drive,” Palmer says. “When you step on the accelerator, you feel the car yawing around the center, being pushed by the rear wheels. This car is distinctly tuned to feel like a Mustang. In the BEV space, the vehicles usually feel flat or as if they are front-wheel drive.”

Another attribute related to that is throttle response. “We didn’t choose for it to feel like a gasoline-powered car.” Palmer says that it reacts to the accelerator in 0.1 seconds. “Someone told me a blink is 0.3 seconds.”

Maximum torque is achieved, he says, in 0.5 seconds. And he cites a 0-to-60 time of 4.8 seconds.

All of which seems to indicate that they’re looking for the enthusiast buyer.

That’s not entirely the case. There are also all those potential buyers of things like Escapes.

“For a lot of people driving this — a new majority — this will be the first time they’re driving an electric car. They’ll discover the feeling and will be delighted,” Palmer says.

What’s more, there are things like the 15.5-inch center screen that provides information for everything from range to the nearest in-network charger; the ability to select distinct (and quite perceptible) drive modes called Unbridled, Whisper and Engage; and the forthcoming hands-free driving via CoPilot360, functionality that will be delivered via over-the-air update.

Beyond the Mach-E

If the Mustang Mach-E amplifies the performance aspects of what a BEV can be, then the following models that Ford is bringing to market have their own important characteristics.

The 2022 E-Transit is being positioned as having a lower total cost of ownership than gasoline-powered vehicles (e.g., 40% reduced maintenance costs over eight years), which is key for commercial customers. This is a point of amplification.

Palmer describes the F-150 as being “the best tool in the world,” and he says that the electric version will serve to amplify what that truck can do.

While the buyers of some electric vehicles have had to accept certain flaws, Palmer says that this isn’t acceptable for Ford. “The doors fit properly, the plastics and other materials color-match, the bumpers don’t fall off, the roof doesn’t come off when you wash it, the door handles don’t get stuck in cold weather. ...”

This is a strategy to provide electric vehicles for people who are not willing to compromise — and won't need to.

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