Mustang Mach-E Unveil Review: Ford surrenders to Tesla’s vision, admits inferiority

Last night was another turning point in the electrification revolution: Ford unveiled it’s first fully-electric vehicle, the Mustang Mach-E. There’s a lot of details to dig into, so let’s get started reviewing what was announced.

New Mustang? or Tesla clone?

Ford started off the event by talking about the history of the Mustang brand. For the last 50 years, Mustang has been a 2-door gas powered sports car with a starting price in the mid $20k range.

Ford pays tribute to the Mustang

Ford calls the new 4-door “Mustang Mach-E” an electric SUV. It really has nothing to do with the Mustang, but Ford decided to run with that branding anyway. The new Mach-E does not a share a platform or any parts with the original 2 door Mustang.

In truth, the event was much more about Tesla than it was about the Mustang. Ford executives didn’t try and hide it: They made numerous references to the California car maker, and even decided to host the unveiling in Hawthorne, California. SpaceX and the Tesla design center are located in Hawthorne, and SpaceX used the same venue for the Semi and Roadster unveil a few years ago.

Why is Ford afraid of Tesla?

Let’s take a look at 2018 Mustang sales:

From Australia to Peru, Mustang reigns as the best-selling sports coupe in the world for 2018, selling 113,066 cars, according to data from IHS Markit.

Ford

And Model 3 sales:

In 2018, we delivered a total of 245,240 vehicles: 145,846 Model 3 and 99,394 Model S and X.

Tesla

That’s right. In the first year of volume production for Model 3, California upstart Tesla saw Model 3 sales that were 28% higher than Ford’s Mustang sales. This despite the fact that Mustang is available around the world, while Model 3 was available only in the United States in 2018. Mustang starts at $26,000. In 2018, most Model 3 had an average selling price around twice as much.

And yet Tesla still outsold the Mustang. With Model Y deliveries starting next year, and new Gigafactories in Shanghai and Berlin, sales look likely to continue growing. Mustang is going have to raise the bar to stay relevant as a performance brand.

But that’s okay –– Ford doesn’t need to win that race. Its bread and butter is the F-150, a tariff protected pickup truck that sells over a million units a year in North America alone. Tesla doesn’t have a product in this segment yet… until Thursday, when Tesla unveils their all electric Cybertruck. If Tesla does as well in the pickup market as they did with Model 3, that spells trouble for Ford’s most profitable model.

Wall Street has taken notice. As of writing, Ford’s market capitalization is $35.3 billion. Tesla, on the other hand, is now valued at $64.8 billion. Tesla is nearing a valuation that’s almost double Ford despite the fact that in 2018 Ford sold 10 times as many vehicles as Tesla (250,000 vs 2.5 million). How do you explain that to your shareholders?

Naturally, Ford started asking: What does Tesla have that I don’t? This presentation is Ford’s answer to that question. Ford has finally admitted: Tesla’s vision of the future is the way forward. People aren’t suddenly going to want gas powered Mustangs again. The future of performance is electric. To compete, Ford is basically going to have to start building their own Tesla.

Ford Copies Tesla to Survive

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Tesla designers and engineers must be blushing, as American auto pioneer Ford declares Tesla’s design is the future of the automobile. Ford’s answer to Tesla is heavily inspired by Tesla’s designs, but with a little Ford twist. In this next part, we’ll review the similarities and differences between the Mach-E and Tesla’s vehicles.

Software

The Tesla-fication of the auto industry isn’t just about batteries instead of engines: It’s about the car being eaten by software. Tesla is always iterating on their software with constant updates in response to user feedback. Will Ford’s Tesla clone ship with an OS that’s better than what you can get on a Tesla in 2021? Or even today?

That seems unlikely, given that the software is still far from finished. But to help give us an idea of what the finished software might look like, Ford presented this helpful “simulation” of the user interface design. You can tell based on the way it’s animated like a Pixar movie that this is not real software and they’re not close to getting the real software to work.

“Pre-production screen images simulated”, Ford warns.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Ford is finally taking the leap and replacing the dashboard and most dashboard vehicle controls with an updatable software interface. This is a huge step forward, but the interface will need to be extremely good. To replace the physical buttons users know and love, the interface will need to be very responsive, stable, and reliable.

If Ford’s interface is laggy, freezes up, or has a lot of bugs it could be enough to make people not want to drive the car. Software has never been more key to the experience of driving a car, and the Ford Sync software team will have to step up to the plate and deliver big time if this product is going to be a success.

I’m not passing judgement on this yet, as we haven’t seen the software yet. But that’s the thing –– we haven’t seen the software yet. (The real software, not some animated movie). All new software is bad, and legacy automakers like Ford don’t exactly have a great track record delivering high-quality modern user experiences. If I had to guess, I’d say the software will probably be a huge pain in the ass at launch. It will likely get better over time, but it’s not clear how fast.

It seems unlikely that Ford will build an OS that is better than what Tesla has in their cars today. It seems even less likely Ford will deliver this car with an OS that is better than what Tesla has in 2021.

Sean O’Kane, from the Verge, who saw the prototype, had this to say about the subject:

It already feels like a complete package, despite having a year to go until it ships. (Save for the software, that is, which wasn’t even close to working in the models Ford showed off Sunday night. Woof.) 

The Verge

The Speedometer / Instrument Cluster

Like almost every other car model, the Mustang Mach-E features a speedometer behind the steering wheel. Ford made sure to point out this decision in contrast to the single screen design of the Model 3:

The CEO is listening to “Don’t Stop Believing”. In Ford?

The word choice of the Ford designer is very telling. Almost any car you buy today has a speedometer and instrument cluster behind the steering wheel so you can see how fast you’re going. So when talking abut the instrument cluster, why does he mention that they “kept it there”? Who said anything about moving it? Oh. “Others” 😂

Of course, it’s clear to everyone in the audience that he’s talking about the elephant in the room: The Tesla Model 3, and its single screen design. If this was an idea born inside the company, they wouldn’t be “keeping” the information behind the wheel, they would just be “putting” it there like they always have. It’s only when you realize this design was conceived with the Model 3 in mind that the word choice starts to make more sense.

Model 3 Interior Photo Credit: The Verge

The lack of a dedicated instrument cluster in the Model 3 was definitely one of the riskiest and most controversial design choices Tesla made with Model 3, but it was the right choice and has proven to be one of the most forward thinking and distinguishing design decisions the Tesla team made. Rather than having two screens, speed and other information just shows up on the driver’s side. Most drivers get used to this pretty quickly and it doesn’t cause any problems, but it is strange and different for people taking a look for the first time.

Besides being simple and scalable, this is the design of a vehicle that’s ready for an autonomous future. Model 3 and Model Y won’t have information behind the steering wheel, because the days of instrument clusters and even steering wheels are quickly coming to a close. You don’t need to have a bunch of useless information in front of your face if you’re not driving the car. Why present certain info to one random passenger, where others can’t easily see it? In the coming years, this will start to look outdated fast –– even before the Mach-E hits the market.

To most people, this line of thinking may seem laughable and ridiculous. Most people don’t believe autonomous vehicles are anywhere close to ready. For Ford customers, that’s probably true. But Tesla Autopilot is advancing increasingly rapidly every month. Tesla will launch their Robotaxi network “somewhere” before Ford launches the standard range Mach-E. Let’s see if they’re still bragging about this feature when the car ships, or if it just serves to make a brand new model look outdated.

The Knobs

Hilariously, the design team for the Mach-E decided to stick a big fat physical volume knob on the display, I shit you not:

Look at all those useless knobs and buttons

Oh boy. Where do we begin…

The idea behind using a screen instead of a physical dashboard is that a screen can change to show a variety of different things, depending on context. In the future, you can send out a software update that changes or optimizes the behavior of the car, to make it easier to use.

Unless there are actual physical buttons and knobs embedded in and around the screen. Then, the volume control is always there whether you need it or not. The most common way for drivers to quickly change the volume is to use the controls on their steering wheel. So who is the physical volume knob really for? Maybe the passenger? But is it really worth losing the screen real estate and flexibility to make changing the volume a little more familiar for passengers? Some people who don’t think too far into the future will probably say it is.

In general, the user interface seems to be filled with unnecessary buttons, information and controls. In addition to the physical volume knob users don’t need, there’s also detailed climate controls, seatbelt check, tire pressure, and more.

There are tons of buttons and vehicle controls that are separate from the main computer. There’s even a physical start / stop button, which Teslas don’t need. (You just get in and get out. There’s no engine to turn on or off, so why have a button?)

Ford’s design is a half measure

The system appears to possibly support a BMW I-Drive like controller in addition to a touch screen. There are a bunch of buttons on the steering wheel and dash. What’s the take away from all this?

This is a half measure. Ford knew that they were getting left in the past and they would have to come up with a vehicle design that followed Tesla’s lead. But they were too afraid to go all the way and adopt the most groundbreaking and radical aspects of Tesla’s design.

What they end up with is a sort of Frankenstein / missing link between man and ape type vehicle design. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s fine. They did a good job. But it wasn’t an original work of inspiration, it’s a half assed clone that misses the bigger picture.

This is Tesla’s product:

And here’s how Ford responded:

Some people like drinking generic cola. That’s fine. But it’s not as good as the real thing.

The Mach-E is designed to look like a Tesla. Not work like a Tesla. To casual observers, the difference may not be easy to see in pictures today. But it will be easy to feel when you sit inside.

Tesla designed the Model 3 by starting with the question: “From a blank slate, how would you design the autonomous car of the future?”. This is how they arrived at their radically simplified design, with almost no buttons and controls on the car except the central software interface.

Ford designed the Mach-E by starting with the question: “What design elements should we adopt from the Model 3 and which should we keep the same as always?”. This is a design born not of inspiration but of fear.

While Tesla drivers are enjoying the scenery in an autonomous future, Ford will be staring at a screen and driving their cars manually. While Tesla drivers watch Netflix full screen, Mustang Mach-E drivers will be staring at a big fat volume knob. The teaser images may look the same, but the reality of each product couldn’t be more different.

If you squint you can’t really see the difference between Classic Coke and generic Cola. But you can always taste the difference. And the Mach-E is generic cola.

Forget about the part of the software that’s supposed to drive the car… simple user interface basics like charging and navigation are going to take a lot of work to get right on the Mach-E.

Hardware

One reason I was really excited to hear more about this product was the 300 mile range and competitive acceleration times. I and many others wondered: How was Ford able to acheive specs that are comparable to Tesla’s Model Y? Are they truly ahead of the rest of the industry? It certainly seemed so at first.

Then you read the fine print and realize Ford is very, very behind. Let’s take a look at the specs for the “First Edition” Mustang Mach-E that Ford is planning to release late next year:

Hmmm. “Only a limited number available”. “First Edition”. “Limited Quantity”. “Special Edition Vehicle”. Something tells me they’re not going to be making very many of these cars… or they don’t want to sell too many. To find out why, let’s look at the range and battery specs:

Yikes! With a 100 kWh battery the Mustang Mach-E can acheive 270 miles of range. Ford didn’t hit the 300 mile mark by designing a more efficient car… they cheated by putting in a bigger battery to hide how much more inefficient their technology is!

For comparison, let’s take a look at the AWD Model Y:

Not only does the Dual Motor Model Y have more range than the Mach-E, it’s $8,000 cheaper and significantly faster too! That means that even though Ford has a $7,500 tax credit, Tesla’s Model Y will still be more affordable. On top of that, the first Model Y will ship at least 6 months before the Mach-E and will ride on the back of the stable Model 3 platform Tesla has been selling for years. Customers will get an amazing product and great software on Day 1.

How on Earth did a little upstart like Tesla build a product that’s thousands of dollars cheaper while still getting longer range, accelerating more quickly, and launching sooner than the competition from the big boys in Detroit?

The secret is that the Long Range Model Y only has a 75 kWh battery –– significantly smaller and lighter than the big bulky 100 kWh pack the Mustang requires.

A Thousand Laptop Batteries

A $2,000 Macbook Pro has a 100 watt-hour battery. That means it can deliver 1 watt of power for 100 hours, or 100 watts of power for one hour. The Mustang Mach-E has a 100 killowatt-hour battery pack, meaning it essentially consists of 1,000 different Macbook Pro battery packs.

I mention this to try and give you a visual: Imagine one thousand different Macbooks being purchased and taken apart. After the 1,000 batteries are removed, they are built into the floor of a car. Since 1,000 laptops are pretty big and heavy, you can imagine that 1,000 laptop batteries are also pretty big and heavy. The battery is the heaviest and most expensive part of any electric vehicle.

Apple sells battery replacements for $199, so 1,000 laptop battery packs would likely cost $100,000 – $200,000. How do you hit a $60,000 targeted price point when you need so many expensive batteries? Not only are the batteries big, heavy, and hard to deal with when designing the vehicle, but they’re expensive too.

(To be clear, electric vehcile batteries don’t cost $100,0000. I’m just making a comparison to a type of battery most people know and understand. Manufacturers obviously purchase lithium ion cells in bulk rather than building cars out of individual laptop batteries and pay an order of magnitude less. But even $10,000 is still a lot when you’re talking about a car).

Tesla does more with less

Extending the laptop battery analogy, Tesla can build a car that’s faster and gets longer range than the thousand laptop Mach-E… using only 750 laptop batteries.

Instead of buying 1,000 laptops and pulling their batteries out, you only have to buy 750. That’s a 25% savings, but it’s not just about saving money. The Tesla drivetrain is simply dramatically more efficient. This manifests itself to the user in several ways:

  1. Ford will not be able to compete with Tesla on price, because they need 33% additional battery capacity to achieve the same specs
  2. Charging will be slower than a Tesla, because you need to store more electricity to travel the same distance
  3. The car will be more expensive to recharge than a Tesla… expect power bills that are one third higher or more
  4. You can’t drive as fast and have as much fun in the car, because your battery will drain like crazy.
  5. Environmental impact is slightly worse
  6. Replacement batteries will be much more costly

It’s just worse technology, as simple as that. Ford’s electric vehicle technology is dramatically less efficient than Tesla’s.

To be fair to the Mach-E, it looks like it’s efficiency is actually better than the étron (which only goes 204 miles on a 100 kWh battery), I-Pace, and Taycan. This is primarily because it’s smaller than Audi’s étron. But it’s still significantly less efficient than the Model 3 and Model Y cars it will be competing with.

I can’t stress the significance of this technological advantage enough. For people who drive gas cars, it might not seem like a big deal: “So what if it needs a little more battery to go the same difference?”

But it makes a huge difference to the experience of using the car, and the value of the car’s hardware. Ford has done an amazing job here, don’t get me wrong. But they’ve announced that the future of the auto industry will be decided by a game they’re still learning how to play.

Made in Mexico

Because the car will be so much more expensive to make than the competiton due to the size of the battery, Ford will have to make the car in Mexico. This will be another major reason some people won’t consider it a “real Mustang”.

It also risks angering a certain orange President of the United States. Will he notice, or is he pre-occupied with the election and other matters? Only time will tell.

Unfortunately, because of a bad design that adds extra costs, Ford couldn’t afford to make this vehicle in America. That’s sad, and doesn’t sound like the future to me. If I’m spending $60,000 on a new vehicle from Ford, I’m not exactly going to be reassured when I find out they had to move production to Mexico to cut costs.

Celebrate the Revoloution

It’s really happening: the dawn of the electrification revoloution. Every make and model, from every manufacturer will be electric. I never thought I would see a product like this from a company like Ford. That is cause for major celebration.

Should Tesla be upset that Ford is copying their design for their own electric vehicles? No –– they should be ecstatic. From Day 1, Tesla has always had the same mission:

This was a batshit crazy idea: That one small startup could force the entire auto industry to transition to an entirely new vehicle and energy architecutre. But that’s exactly what’s happened.

For over a decade Elon Musk and his team were screaming: “Pigs will fly! Pigs will fly!” while the rest of the auto indsutry laughed. That is, until pigs started flying. Now, everyone is trying to market their own flying pig.

Many people –– some simply stupid, others deliberately propagating misinformation –– will say: “Tesla is dead! Now a real auto company, Ford, has an electric vehicle that’s just as good as Tesla’s. They’ll be bankrupt within a week!”. It’s the Tesla killer du jour.

This is just a lame attempt to spin a moment of triumph for Tesla into a moment of defeat. Face it: the entire industry has realized that Tesla’s vision of electric, autonomous, software based cars is the future of the auto industry. Tesla was right, and now everyone will be following their lead.

Some people who don’t know much about electric cars may choose a Mach-E as their first EV. But there isn’t much of a reason for anyone who isn’t a moron to buy one. When they start to learn about EVs, many will realize their next one should be a Tesla.

The Mach-E’s software will be years behind… once it exists. The hardware is dramatically less efficient. There’s no Supercharging network. No Autopilot (just “Co-pilot” from Ford). And to add injury to insult, Ford is charging thousands of dollars more for this subpar experience!

Tesla has an enormous head start. And the fact that the Model Y will launch at least 6 months earlier than the Mach-E isn’t exactly going to help Ford catch up.

Please welcome all our new electric vehicle friends. They will be key partners in convincing the world that there is no reason left to buy a gas powered vehicle of any kind.

Conclusion

The Mustang Mach-E is the most exciting new product to come out of Ford in a long time. Consumers seem genuinely interested: the unveiling was not a dud. At $500, many people may put down a reservation.

But digging in a little deeper, it’s clear that Tesla is years ahead of Ford on electric vehicle technology. Tesla has been making software based cars for years –– the software for the Mach-E seems to be pretty much non-existant. Tesla makes the most efficient cars in the world –– Ford had to put a much bigger battery in to hide the fact that their effieciency is nowhere near Tesla’s. And Tesla isn’t standing still. Beware the Ides of Tesla battery & powertrain investor day.

Despite the fact that it’s made in Mexico, it’s still thousands of dollars more expensive than a Tesla, eliminating any benefit from the $7,500 Federal Income Tax Credit Ford gets but Tesla doesn’t. Personally this seems backwards to me. Shouldn’t we be giving tax benefits to cars that are made in America? Why does current EV policy subsidize foreign made autos at the expensive of American EV pioneers Tesla and GM?

Expect to see many more models going electric, with increasingly impressive specs. Don’t expect Tesla to stand still. Most importantly, grab your popcorn kids –– this biggest structural shift in the history of the global economy is about to begin.

🍿😮

It won’t all be pretty. On the surface, this is a triumphant moment for Ford. But dig a little deeper and it’s clear that Ford (and the rest of the global auto industry) are fighting for their lives.

The revolution will be televised, covered, and tweeted. Subscribe to Whole Mars for more updates.

One thought on “Mustang Mach-E Unveil Review: Ford surrenders to Tesla’s vision, admits inferiority

  1. All I think about when I hear Mach-E is Star Trek Deep Space 9 and Captain Sisko fighting the Maquis, or Star Trek Voyager’s Maquis plot line.

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