Ford CEO Jim Farley was a champion of the idea of creating sub-brands around iconic Blue Oval nameplates, starting with Mustang and Bronco. With those models’ early success seeing their names spread beyond their core original Mustang and Bronco models, Farley thinks there is room to expand the concept to more nameplates.
“We have so much opportunity,” Farley tells MotorTrend in an interview. “We have such a plethora of ideas and passion brands in the company. So many in Europe and in the U.S. We run deep. So, I don’t think we’re going to stop there.”
The sub-brand idea goes back to the naming of Ford’s first performance all-electric, battery-powered SUV, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E. The move rankled some purists who felt that all the Mustang styling cues in the world, not to mention 480 horsepower and 634 lb-ft of instant torque were not enough to justify attaching the Mustang pony car nameplate to a four-door crossover. The Mach-E represents the first expansion of the Mustang family in 55 years, meaning it also risks messing with the muscle car’s history and legacy and all those other sacred realms that can easily kill a bold idea.
How an Electric SUV Became a Mustang
Ford had begun work on a “compliance” electric vehicle, so-named because it was being developed to meet emissions standards and nothing more. The milquetoast crossover, based on the Ford Fusion, was scrapped under then-new CEO Jim Hackett, but it was his lieutenant Jim Farley who challenged the team to use the Mustang as inspiration for a sportier and more exciting design and the dynamism a rear-drive platform could inject. Somewhere along the development line, the vehicle went from Mustang-inspired to a full-on Mustang, having been deemed worthy of the pony badge.
Any fan-base vitriol is being overshadowed by critical acclaim for the Mach-E. Those who have driven one don’t care what it is called if it performs as promised. MotorTrend testers were impressed with the Mach-E’s balance and found it to be a whole lot of fun. Ford sold more than 6,600 Mach-E SUVs in the U.S. in the first quarter.
Bronco Becomes Sub-Brand
Creating an outdoorsy sub-brand around the Bronco name has been less controversial, but arguably more confusing. That is because the return of the Ford Ranger pickup-based, body-on-frame Bronco in two-and four-door configurations, is still a way out. The 2021 Bronco is not due until fall and some models have been delayed to the 2022 model year due to supply-chain issues.
Despite the delays, “we have almost 200,000 reservations for Bronco,” Farley says. “If they all convert to orders, that’s two years of production.”
Meanwhile, a new unibody SUV, sharing front-drive underpinnings with the Ford Escape but with more off-road capability and the squared-off, rugged look of a Bronco, is the first family member on the market. The 2021 Bronco Sport is on sale now—and more than 23,000 of them sold in the U.S. in the first quarter—and comes with a surprising amount of capability. A hallmark of the new Bronco brand is standard all-wheel drive.
“I’m so glad we allocated that capital to that Bronco lineup,” Farley says.
An entry-level compact pickup could join the Bronco brand, as well. It is expected to use the front-wheel drive platform used by the Ford Focus in Europe, and the new pickup—”Maverick” seems to be the leading name, but perhaps “Bronco Courier” could work—would slot below the Ranger.
More Sub-Brands to Come
The success of Mustang and Bronco spin-offs are encouraging Ford to continue down this path of putting variants and even different body styles under the umbrella of a single nameplate. “I made it very clear when we rolled out the plan that we’re going to create new passion brands too,” Farley says.
It makes marketing sense; building awareness for a new nameplate requires a lot of time and money. Tapping into a legacy name comes with recognition. Mustang has been mentioned in at least 50 songs; Bronco has been featured in more than 1,200 films, 200 songs, and one very famous police chase by a former quarterback.
The CEO does not go on to say which nameplates could evolve into sub-brands. We can hazard a few guesses. In Europe, where Ford continues to sell cars beyond the Mustang, the real emphasis is on commercial vehicles. Ford is betting heavily on returns from its commercial vehicles making Transit a good bet.
Then there is the Ford F-150. Ford lumps the light-duty pickup with heavy duties under the umbrella of F-Series—a category that collectively sells about 1.1 million trucks a year. But F-Series as a name has not really struck gold in the automotive lexicon the way F-150 has. There are so many trims and special editions that F-150 is arguably already a sub-brand (it’s a common refrain that Ford’s F-150 business alone could make up its own Fortune 500 company). And there is more to come, as Ford plans an all-electric F-150 next year, part of a larger plan to electrify its iconic vehicles.
Raptor Would Also Be a Good Sub-Brand for Ford
There is real potential is in the Raptor name currently affixed to the high-speed, desert-bashing F-150 variant. It already has been spun off into a sub-brand, in a way, with the name and treatment extended to the Ranger pickup—but not here in the U.S. Look for this sin to be atoned for when the Ranger is redesigned in the next year or so.
And with Ford promising a real acceleration in the number of nameplates still to come, including many new electric vehicles, there are likely sub-brands in the works for names we have not yet heard of. That includes plans for small electric vehicles for Europe using partner Volkswagen’s MEB electric vehicle platform.
“We’re going to grow as a company,” Farley says. “There’s no shortage of great ideas.”
So, to end on a touchy subject … Which does Farley prefer: a Mustang or a Mustang Mach-E? “I want both,” he tells us. “I want both because I have the luxury of having more than one vehicle in my household. And yeah. I want a Mustang for the Dream Cruise and I want my Mustang Mach-E, GT specifically, to drive to work every day, and once in a while, maybe a Bronco. And if I want to go up north on a nice summer weekend, I’ll probably take my Mustang. It depends on the trip.”
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