Why Ford’s first electric vehicle was named after a legend
Ford Mustang

Written by Bartek Bezemer

I want to help you get more out of your online marketing by giving you insider tips and combine them with market trends to help you better reach your target audience.

June 24, 2020

The Mustang brand, a benchmark for the gasoline sportscar, now decorates a vehicle for a new era.

The announcement of Ford’s real first vehicle, The Mustang Mach E, didn’t go unnoticed with car enthusiasts. The press was all over the place, questioning the reasoning to name an electric vehicle after a gasoline icon since the 60’s. It’s understandable because it was the affordable sports car of America. A staple of the American Dream, a sign of prosperity. 

Same name, new era 

The electric vehicle market is growing fast, partially thanks to the help of Tesla which proved that long distance electric travel packaged a slick product was possible, because let’s be real the previous attempts were looking like vehicles from the Jetsons with a range shorter than a hotwheels. The diesel scandal with Volkswagen also propelled the German manufacturing industry to adopt new technologies. New model after new model is being announced. 

Ford, just like Volkswagen, has a lot of history in the gasoline market, but nothing noteworthy ready for a new era of mobility. It had to find a way to create appeal with a fanbase dedicated and passionate about the company’s history, and attract new customers with an affordable premium vehicle option. Or just like Rich from Rich Rebuilds said about the Tesla Cybertruck, Tesla had no choice. Tesla couldn’t bring out any normal looking vehicle that looked like anything already out there. People wouldn’t switch just because it was an electric pick-up truck. Ford had to do the same in the electric market, it had to shake things up a little bit. Stir the pot.

Ford Mustang Mach E.
Ford Mustang Mach E. Source: Ford

On 17 November 2019 Ford unveiled its Mustang Mach E, or in their own words “Ford is expanding the Mustang family, bringing the famous pony into the electric age with Mustang Mach-E”. It threw some big claims around saying the vehicle is on par with the Porsche 911 GTS in terms of its 0 to 60 speed and its horsepower. Ford wanted to make sure its new vehicle would live up and even overtake the expectations of future buyers. But why did it cling on to the Mustang brand, knowing it would cause a wave of either surprise or disrespect for one of its most iconic cars? For this we need to go back into the history books to learn why Ford launched the Mustang in the first place and how it became such a success.

The Mustang Marketing Powerhouse

Ford humbly declared that the enthusiasm for the Mustang brand came from ‘one of the most innovative and sustained marketing and public relations campaigns in history.’ A bold claim. Maybe rightfully so, because they were crazy enough to park a 1966 Mustang on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building in 1965. Sparking a new era for Ford when it released its first Mustang in 1964, labelling it as the Mustang 1964 ½ . 

An odd name at first, but clever by design. Because in the 60’s new models were revealed during Fall, but Ford wanted to be ahead of the curve and announced it during Spring. A very clever move. We see this today as well in the gaming industry, who is gearing up towards big events mostly around June. The press knows that big news is coming up and companies play the game along with them. The chances of new products or franchises shaking the industry during the time between the beginning of the year and the events themselves is slim. Ford knew how to play this game, being aware of the trends in the automotive industry. It strategically leaked details about the car towards its reveal, generating hype. Mystery. Reporters were craving a big hit when not a lot of other stuff was going on. Ford drove around its model in different secret locations, something we today call spy footage. The press loved it. Would this be the mysterious new model Ford was teasing the public about? 

Ford ran ads for the Mustang on three television networks and the following day placed ads in 2.600 newspapers across the United States

Obviously just playing with the press isn’t enough, because despite the strong pick-up, it’s oftentimes a gamble whether the press will pick up your content. So before the official introduction, Ford ran ads for the Mustang on three television networks and the following day placed ads in 2.600 newspapers across the United States. It’s hard to imagine how labor intensive this must have been, now that we live in a digital age, where with a push of a button is pushed to every reporters’ inbox and can become a viral piece.  

The Mustang was a hit, smashing Ford’s expectations. Ford estimated to sell 100,000 cars annually. But within 24 hours it already sold 22,000 units and within 12 months it sold 417,000, excluding licensed speciality vehicles which generated an additional 93,000 sales in the same year. Ford had struck gold with the Mustang and it wanted more. Ford used the Mustang for racing, to further establish and promote the brand as a performance model. The Mustang GT350 would win the SCCA National Championships three years in a row. The Mustang would also see the spotlights of Hollywood, starring in movies such as Goldfinger, Bullitt and Gone in 60 seconds. 

In 2009, the 45th birthday of the Mustang, Jim Farley, the Ford Group Vice President of Marketing and Communications stated that, “The Ford Mustang is one of the world’s most beloved automotive and cultural icons.” The Mustang rightfully so became a legend over the decades. The true affordable sports car for America. A symbol of pride and symbol of American prosperity.

A dying breed

But it wasn’t all success stories for the brand. While a lot of the cars were good, some bad installments also plagued the American pony. In Jalopnik, an authoritative car website, asked its readers to rate the top 10 worst installments of the Mustang. In first place it was the 1974 Mustang Mach 1, 10 years after the first model was introduced, which received an underwhelming V6 engine. For European standards V6 equals performance, but a V8 would be more suitable for its American counterpart. Another interesting addition is the second nominee, the Ford Mustang Ghia, which broke with tradition turning the Ford Mustang into a “luxe-lite cruiser”. Ghia for many years was the top spec for the different models, now replaced by Vignale.

Ford Mustang sales have been plummeting for over more than a decade in the United States. Despite its very strong brand image, it couldn’t pull in as many customers as it once did. In 2005 Ford sold 160,975 units, in 2011 it dipped to 70,438 recovering in 2015 with 122,349 and in 2019 ending with 72,489 cars sold. The swings in sales have multiple reasons, a financial crisis, rising fuel costs and environmental regulations, which hurt the sales of this once staple of American culture.

The Mustang is dear to many people’s hearts, but it didn’t translate into dollars

It’s also revealing that consumer demand is changing, because the percentage of households without access to a vehicle has been declining. In 2011 9.3% of U.S. households didn’t have access to a vehicle and it declined to 8.7% in 2018. But those households aren’t flocking to passenger vehicles, meaning not in favor of vehicles such as the Mustang. No. The positives were going out to a formerly ostracized type of vehicle, the Light Trucks, which includes the SUV. Manufacturers have been working hard to fill their SUV portfolio, including Ford. In 2018 Light Trucks accounted for 11,919,737 sales, increasing to  12,234,492 a growth of 2.6%, while the passenger car sales had declined from 5,354,506 to 4,813,233, a drop of 10.1%.

The Mustang is dear to many people’s hearts, but it didn’t translate into dollars. The fan base was dwindling, yet remained very present, dedicated and vocal. Ford knew it needed to go hard or go home to win back sales. It chose an established and iconic brand, using its fanbase to amplify the message. The Ford Mustang Mach E is comparable in size to the Porsche Macan, Lexus NX and Mercedes GLC SUV, positioning its car in the profitable and growing market for SUVs. Time will tell whether this SUV-like model will be a new successful chapter in Mustang history.

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