Tale of Two Electric Unveils: Tesla Cybertruck and Ford Mustang Mach-E

We don’t know how many hand-raisers there are for the 2021 Mustang Mach-E, Ford’s new electric SUV, or how many have placed a $500 deposit. Ford won’t tell us.

We do know there were about 9,000 interested would-be buyers on November 18, the night it made its global debut at a high-energy event at the Jet Center in Hawthorne, California. For the event, Ford brought in the Detroit Youth Choir that placed second on America’s Got Talent. Also on hand: actor Idris Elba. His father worked at the Ford Dagenham assembly plant in the U.K. for most of his life and Elba worked at the plant for two years. The Mach-E will start arriving in late 2020, and Ford will only make 50,000 units globally in the first model year.

Contrast that with Tesla, which, two days later in a neighboring building in Hawthorne, had the world premiere of the Cybertruck, an electric pickup that is otherworldly in design. Tesla immediately started accepting orders with $100 deposits. Three days later, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was tweeting that he had 200,000 orders for the Cybertruck. The truck is still a minimum of 2-3 years out, depending on the model, and Musk’s timelines are notoriously inaccurate. The $100 deposit is fully refundable, and website glitches resulted in people accidentally ordering a whole fleet of trucks.

Even if the figures are off, and the truck never makes it to production, the buzz around the Tesla Cybertruck was louder by many multiples of decibels.

The contrast is fun, and Tesla and Ford have amplified their differences in a Twitter dual stemming from a Tesla video of the Cybertruck pulling a Ford F-150 pickup in a tug of war.

All of this is a long preamble to some aspects of the Mustang Mach-E—which is a real vehicle and will go into production next year as promised—that you might have missed in last week’s mayhem.

The rear-drive Mach-E has a large motor between the rear axles. Adding a small motor to the front gives it all-wheel-drive capability, and the badging becomes Mach-E 4. Ford claims the base Mach-E with AWD will be faster from 0-60 mph than a Porsche Macan base model. Replacing the small motor up front with one as big as the one in the back creates the performance Mach-E GT. “I’ve driven it. It’s like a rocket ship,” said Executive Chairman Bill Ford, from a building across from Musk’s SpaceX.

There are two battery levels. The flat battery pack of the mid-range will get close to 230 miles of range. Adding a second tier of batteries to the back of the pack (under the rear seats) for the extended range boosts that to about 300 miles of range, and the badging adds an “x.” The figures are estimates; the vehicle has not yet received its EPA certification.

Balance

All versions of the Mach-E are well-balanced. Some are dead on with a 50-50 weight distribution. Depending on if there is a second motor up front, and which size that is, some models are 48-52 or 49-51. Dave Pericak, who left Ford Performance to work on the Mach-E, said it took a lot of work, but their handling meets the bar and they deserve to be called Mustangs. Ron Heiser, chief program engineer, said the weight distribution makes the crossover nicely planted, and it is the best handling utility vehicle in the Ford showroom. “No doubt about it.”

Hands-free highway driving

The hardware is in place for hands-free highway driving in mapped areas, similar to GM’s SuperCruise system that takes over the steering wheel and pedals on the highway, as long as the car can verify that the driver is still paying attention. Ford is still validating its system which will allows hands-free driving as long as the eye-monitoring system verifies that the driver is paying attention and can take over if needed to ensure safety. The system will be capable of making lane changes, as well. The feature won’t be available at launch but will be offered in the first model year.

Material choices

Bill Ford is eco-conscious and a known greenie who still loves performance. So it is no surprise that the Mach-E has standard animal-free upholstery. It feels like leather, but it is not. There are no cloth seats either. But the stereo’s sound bar and speakers are covered in a unique automotive grade cloth instead of the usual choices of plastic or metal.

Phone as key

Ford is not the first to use the phone as a key but it is going further than most to wean drivers off of their key fobs. Yes, there is a backup key fob but it has limited functionality to discourage its use and prompt owners to rely on their smartphone to unlock, warm, and start the car. Don’t worry if your phone dies. Heiser points to the keypad on the side of the car—Ford has offered keypads for years but few people actually use it. But on the Mach-E, the keypad is a backup to get in, by entering a code, if a phone can’t be used. A second, longer code must be entered once inside to confirm identity and start the car. There is a valet mode as well, where the valet gets a temporary code.

Over-the-air updates

After launch, the team will continue to work on the ability to provide over-the-air updates to keep systems current. It won’t go as far as Tesla where you can wake up to software updates and get a sense you have a whole new car. But your phone could be programmed so that as you approach the car, it not only lights up and illuminates a Mustang welcome mat on the ground, but is set to physically open the door so you don’t even need to touch the handle. Ford is also working to be able to boost range over the air in the future as it continues to work to improve efficiency and performance, and tinkers with the calibration of acceleration versus range.

Purse holder

The layout of the console was driven by research in Dearborn, U.K., Germany, and China. One idea was to just have a low, open bin. “We thought we’d hit the holy grail for purse storage,” said Heiser. But most women said they would not put an expensive purse close to the floor; they would rather just toss it on the passenger seat. So the design idea was dropped. The car instead has room for a purse or small bag beneath the central armrest.

Roof design

The design of the roof gives the vehicle a fastback look while ensuring enough headroom for tall rear passengers. Essentially, the design disguises the true height. Heiser says a lot of body engineering went into the roof system and his 6-foot, 3-inch frame fits with a fist and a half of unused headroom. His boss, at 6-foot, 7-inches also had to fit. “The two of us used to scare the heck out of everybody,” Heiser said.

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