In Making a Mustang Inspired CUV EV with Trucks and Mustang Left in Their Portfolio, Ford Risks Mustang Fatigue With Already Angry Sedan Customers
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Rendering of Blue Mustang CUV in middle courtesy carscoops.com, others courtesy FoMoCo onYouTube.
Ford Motor Company has decided to make its first full-on new from the ground up fully electric car a performance crossover BEV based on styling cues, performance, and horsepower from the only passenger car that they’ll eventually have left in their portfolio: the Ford Mustang. You can tell in this case Ford did not employ a focus group or the other usual avenues of marketing survey tools to see if a car like this that they envision, would see success before either deciding to make such a car, or especially to use the initial name they were thinking of giving it: “Mach 1,” a super performance variant of the storied and iconic 2+2 coupe that Mach 1 first made its debut on Mustang back in 1968 on the fastback version. Reaction to both the Mustang inspired EV CUV and the name that was floating around Fordworld, was, to put it mildly, swift and scathing. And rightfully so:
- In the Ford Universe making a Mustang CUV is considered sacrilegious. They’re better off making it a Mustang sedan or woody station wagon.
- In this process Ford has now pissed off two customer bases: first the sedan and small car people, now the Mustang people, a group they’re supposed to be pleasing.
- Reaction to using the Mach 1 name for the CUV was overwhelmingly negative
- With only one passenger car left in the portfolio, their iconic halo, Ford needs to find a balance of exposure and maximization to not give customers Mustang fatigue
- A possible testing mule may have been spotted out in the field but experts aren’t sure if that’s the now formerly named if Ford is smart for itself Mach 1 CUV or just an Escape.
- We need to back up to Ford’s decision to kill everything in the US market but Mustang, trucks, and a crossover: Ford pissed off a lot of their sedan customers doing this, for the customers to revolt!
- Ford’s problem is that by killing a product line, they inadvertently pressed their reset button to redefine what they are, changed their business model of the products they sell, and changed their demographic of who buys.
Overview of Ford’s Current Operations Condition
Right now is not a good time to be a car maker in the world, and for legacy carmakers, Tesla is included in this paradigm. For the first time since the Great Recession, new car sales have taken a nose dive, and given the current economy it has carmakers wondering how much of this is about tariff talk and the rest about another economic slowdown or a mere market correction, as global demand dramatically slows and for Ford, their European operations are not doing too well. For one thing it could not have come at a worse time for Ford Motor Company. Experts at CNN say that this cycle will include a massive shift in how vehicles are manufactured and sold, and some legacy makers will not survive the other end of this cycle.
Ford seemed to see the writing on the wall back in 2008 that they didn’t need a bailout, but they are woefully unprepared for another kind of crisis that may happen now in 2018. They were probably ready for the Economic Crisis of 2008 when the investment banks collapsed that they had the vision a few years beforehand to sell off just about everything they acquired in overseas operations that made up their European luxury brands in assets, and whatever was left in their investment portfolio before the crash, to eventually have walk-around crisis money, that GM and Chrysler did not. That led to other two’s 2009 bankruptcies, that Ford proudly boasted about averting for themselves. “We didn’t need a bailout,” was the message from Dearborn as assembly lines were rebooted after the car industry collapse.
Not this time. For 2018 very much like the cash position Tesla is now in and struggling against, Ford also is now the car company in a spiraling money burn at $158 billion USD in debt. Up until a few days ago, they were trying to save their stock dividend payout they like to give majority stakeholders like the Ford family members that was in jeopardy, to instead recently face the news that a rating agency downgraded their debt to a notch near junk bond status. If the auto industry is to see a transformation in production and marketing, Ford is certainly in no position right now to survive on the other side of that downturn cycle. Layoffs seem to be certainly the next step in this process.
With that backdrop, here now comes Ford’s perceived bizarre plans for their passenger cars, Mustang, and trucks. People are wondering, what the hell is going on at the Blue Oval and is anyone still in the car cockpit flying that Ford airliner? It seems like a self imploding crash landing is imminent, and if Mustang was the parachute to save us all, then we’re all going to die. The people poised to either a) buy another Ford, b) buy a new Mustang, or c) are present owners or currently fans of it, have sent a message they won’t be buying Mustangs or variants of it like Tesla customers are buying Model 3’s to save their company. That’s not going to happen.
First We Need to Assess Ford Customer Reaction to Car Portfolio Cancellation
Before we get to the world of Mustangs, we need to back up to the crisis overspill of Ford killing the cars in the US portfolio. Because this is where the problem of Mustang CUV EV actually exists, and where both the halo and the CUV variant either benefits or suffers if Ford is not careful. The reaction to Ford deciding to build essentially trucks in the US market was swift, scathing, and the repercussions have yet to be fully assessed, especially when Ford tries to move to the next order of business and makes decisions about the only car it will have left in its portfolio, plans fully executed.
Our colleagues at the Torque Report source this Cox Automotive survey taken from 2,697 of what seems to be Ford sedan or hatch customers, to see what the chances are of having another Ford in their future after they’re done with their present Ford passenger car, from what Ford says will be the last sedan or small car they’ll make or at least sell in the US market. Now this is only one survey, and the sampling admittedly was small at about 2,700 customers, but the margins were so pronounced that the message was loud and clear: Ford car customers are not happy with the pullout decison, and probably will take their business elsewhere.
Recently GM announced they will be more than happy to accommodate them, the Ford passenger car refugees, with a full range of passenger sedans and hatches across a half dozen platforms configured for three brands up to a full sized segment. In fact, GM says it will do what Ford didn’t, to carefully target market their sedan as affordable introductory vehicles for young customers like college grads and first time buyers, with more affordable options. Some say Ford will one day either regret or change its mind about this decision.
But those present Ford soon to possibly be GM customers sent a message: of those surveyed only 10% said they could consider buying a Ford CUV for their next purchase after a Ford portfolio pullout from the US market. Only 5% of those customers would consider buying a Mustang, and only a paltry 3% said they’d consider buying a Ford truck. Most in the survey expressed surprise that Ford would do such a thing as cancel most of a product line and most thought it was a bad idea. Now, yes these are sedan/hatch customers, not Ford truck buyers, their biggest and most money making base. But they are what they are and this is what it is.
Ford most likely could say they were going to lose a lot of them anyway. For example at present, 53% of Fusion owners when trading in or leasing over, switch to cars like Honda Accord, Honda CR-V, Toyota Camry or Toyota RAV4. Ironically it is this attitude that is getting Ford into trouble with its customers, that it needs to change its mindset on approaching its demographic customer market.
What Ford Doesn’t Get That They Better Soon
And that’s the point of all of this as we move closer to reporting Ford’s plans for its new Mustang CUV EV down below. Above all else Ford has a serious optic and communication issue with their market strategy that not only hasn’t been resolved since the cancellation announcement a few months ago, but with the rollout reveal of this new BEV CUV, they have only worsened the problem and have done so under current developing global economic market circumstances in what could become another recession and/or their debt crisis if not careful.
Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with Autotrader, told Automotive News: “Ford’s got some work to do in terms of clearing up the message to owners of these vehicles if they want any shot of keeping them. They need to do some educating.” And it seems that Ford has written off these people with their pullout decision, to perhaps not realize they still may need at least some of them. In the car industry regardless of market, segment, or product, and economic circumstances, it’s not a good thing when a car company loses a customer base, let alone even a customer.
Brand loyalty is now about survival in the car industry as any maker can use any platform and build just about anything that rolls around like a car, and Ford should be treating its brand as if it were a luxury one and sacred, something it doesn’t know how to do that Daimler Benz does to a perfection, and how they treat their Lincoln brand is a showcase example.
Lessons of Lincoln Continental
The Mercedes Benz S Class is a money loser for Daimler. The profit margin isn’t that great, especially when sold in the US market as they steeply discount the MSRP so it remains competitive, that it makes the car by appointment only in limited numbers by pulling hand picked workers off the E Class assembly line to make their flagship halo car. You can’t haggle as much when buying a new S Class. Daimler has created a marketing dynamic in the S class segment that one probably couldn’t contemplate life on the roads without the S Class in existence. We use that car as a standard to judge others.
Lincoln should be doing the same for the Continental. They don’t. Thank goodness they had enough sense to at least sacrifice the car’s gorgeous and state-of-the-art interior and repurposed it down the Lincoln range. I worry about the way Ford treats their halos, from T-Birds to Ford GT’s. They cheapen them ie Mustang II, they throw them away after using them like prostitutes ie Thunderbirds, and give their halos to rental counters, and it’s one thing to make a cheap V6 Mustang to do that, but Ford gives it all away like a madam in a whore house. When was the last time you rented a Bentley or a Maserati at a counter at JFK or SFO, even MIA? Ford does not covet their halos, only when they make them money they make an attempt to.
Some Ford products should be treated like an exotic, like Continental. It was made for the Chinese, not necessarily for us. Ford seems to forget that. If executed more carefully and with better planning, this car could have been used for the brand to go upmarket here and abroad. Big flagship cars are not meant to be money makers, they’re designed, built, and marketed to show the industry and customers what you can do with the tech you have. You make them in limited numbers just to give people a taste, and in doing that you create demand. You don’t treat a Continental like a Taurus. That’s how Ford sees its halo flagship sedan, no differently. That’s why Ford has problems with their products.
At the first sign of trouble in sales, Ford at first panic and without mercy, imposes a drawdown cancellation of their iconic rebooted flagship halo Lincoln Continental without skipping a beat. About $2 billion USD in development, production, and marketing, flushed down the toilet. Ford may love their light trucks but they came back to having a big hole in their large sedan segment that will probably never be filled, at least for many years to come.
I wonder if the car ever made it to China where it was supposed to be made for? Will it ever get those suicide doors before they kill it? The announcements came one right after the other like the assembly line it’s made on, that you wonder if they’re going through with their plans to improve it before they finally kill it. For Ford production corporate culture, that’s counterintuitive. And now they want to do CUV Mustang like it were on a printing press. This is what frustrates people about Ford Motor Company, from customers to investors. Will they ever get it?
By Changing its Products Ford Virtually Changed its Business Model
What Ford doesn’t realize is that when it killed its cars, it still remains an industrial powerhouse in the auto industry, no doubt, but it also became something else it wasn’t expecting, and it still doesn’t see it yet, and it needs to pay more attention to it now even more: it’s now a niche boutique auto maker in many ways like Tesla has become, of building specific kinds of vehicles, in this case light duty trucks and one halo muscle 2+2 coupe ponycar that will have a performance CUV variant, to a targeted demographic customer base.
They squeezed their demographic down to a few categories and segments of vehicles, mostly light duty trucks, that they almost created a new business model that they shouldn’t be pushing people away. They should be detouring them to their new SUV CUV and Mustang world as the new Fords in their future. And with those half dozen flexible platforms these vehicles will be stretched and bent and shortened and lengthened and twisted ad nauseum, there’s plenty of room for everyone’s tastes. Forgive the long explanation, but finally lets get to the rollout reveal of the Mustang CUV EV, as cannons misfired here as well.
The CUV EV Concept
Although this car will not be in the segment, genre, and frankly caliber that the Model S is already in, and the Porsche Taycan will be when it finally rolls out, this will be Ford’s first full production from the ground up all electric BEV. So it has a very important significance to the company as the other hallmark premium luxury performance electrics do for their brands. While it may not be a Tesla or a Porsche, it still will be a Ford, and it will be its first all electric full production vehicle. So of course it has to be different and special in some way. And since the company is moving forward with trucks, what better way to roll out a vehicle like this than to have it as a CUV and to make it in some way as competitive if not against the Model S or Taycan, than have it compete in some way against Model X and Y? A performance variant seems like the wise progression in developing a prototype, and thus, using Ford Mustang inspiration in its design and development would make perfect sense. At least on paper.
What’s in a Name?
After jumping the hurdles of portfolio cancellation, the next leap for Ford was the controversy of using the “Mach 1” moniker to upset their next round of different customers. They already had an idea of what the car would be like, it was then about breaking the news to the customer base without upsetting them too much so they can get used to it. So the idea was how to breakout the news without using the word Mustang, but give customers word cues to lead them to the concept. Car companies are notorious for not knowing when to quit when it comes to certain things, nomenclature is definitely one of them.
There have been times in auto history when perhaps it was a good moment to call whatever it was at the moment, quits. And leave it there. As Ford re-introduces yes, yet another halo, Ford Ranger SUV, and the one we like in its late 1960’s to 1970’s configuration of a small all terrain SUV, some wise guy over at Chevrolet came up with the bright idea of reintroducing the iconic Chevy Blazer name onto a 2019 CUV version that doesn’t do the name justice. And for good measure they gave it a kind of Camaro fascia. Definitely not cool for a lot of Camaro owners and fans as they lit up the Internet in revolt. This is where I was hoping Ford did not get the bright idea for the Ford Mustang CUV.
The Lesson of Name Fatigue
Some companies just tach on a name all over the place to wonder where the original or flagship car lays in the range, if you can find it, and what the name finally means now that it’s applied everywhere that it cheapened the marque. Mitsubishi is a blatant recent example of using its iconic Eclipse moniker once used for a small sexy zippy little sports car, and eventually whore it out for just about every CUV they could either make, or even find it seems. For those who can remember, for me the most glaring example was Oldsmobile and the Cutlass name.
Back in the 70’s an Olds Cutlass Supreme was a sheik personal luxury car that started as a 2 door coupe that competed not necessarily with Lincoln Continental Mark 4, but more with Ford Thunderbird, and Chrysler Córdoba. If you wanted a gentleman’s GT that Camaro was for high school boys, you ordered something that was called a Cutlass 442, an executive muscle car with electric windows, a rarity back in the day, that was a Supreme done in steroids. A platform upgrade in the late 70’s saw different variants from the usual coupe, sedan, and Cruiser Wagon, and this ugly looking four door fastback sedan that the rear windows didn’t roll down.
There was Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Calais, Cutlass Ciera, Cutlass S, Cutlass Cruiser, Cutlass Vista Cruiser, Cutlass Salon; Cutlass 442 became too big for its shoes to be just Cutlass, so it became Oldsmobile 442, and well, you get it, Cutlass, Cutlass, Cutlass, its almost as bad as what Toyota did to the Prius, will somebody please get me a real sharp one, because I think I’m going to kill myself with a Cutlass. The blade. Not the car. For years we got all so sick and tired of Cutlass the name suddenly changed out of nowhere to Alero, and Oldsmobile’s punishment finally came due for Cutlass saturation when it too became extinct.
So the point is that names matter for car people, and damn it, whether its named Phantom or Mustang, made 40 years ago or now, it better walk, talk, look, drive, act, and quack like a Phantom or Mustang now that it did like the one made years ago. Otherwise, please, just call it something else. So here comes Ford with another bright idea. At first when the announcement came, Ford teased us about the name, as apparently they had the whole vision of what the car will be like without even asking their customer base, and it seemed they knew right away that a Mustang inspired soccer mom CUV may not fly in certain car circles. From the same company that gives us things like the Ford Edsel, at least they have enough sense when they try to introduce a new model that something about it might not fly with customers. If only Ford listened to that ability more often and more closely.
Rolling Out a Concept or Prototype Reveal Without Pissing People Off
That ability would have helped with the floating of the Mach 1 name. What Ford then did was try to give Mustang CUV a narrative so that people could understand Ford’s line of thinking with its conceptual inspiration of using its halo, but also to give people a framework as to how this concept becomes a working vehicle. This is about combining two of Ford’s most iconic vehicles that make them the Ford they are today. Mustang CUV is about the mating of Ford Mustang and Ford Explorer. And this is where this awkward video Ford tried to take us to when the rollout reveal happened a few months ago:
Some of this is cultural, similar to the demographic Harley Davidson awkwardly has with their demographic with things like climate change and changing times. This was another message sent loud and clear to Ford about the Mach 1 name, this time from another customer base: enter the Mustang owners: “Mach 1” is to be used for a high performance gasoline guzzling Mustang not a sissy CUV EV. Case closed: Jim Farley, Ford’s President of Global Markets, essentially put the Mach 1 issue to bed: “We put that out there to evaluate it. There are pros and cons. I don’t want to handicap it at this point, but we got a very strong reaction from people.”
In trying to find a name that will literally electrify the product to generate excitement and interest, Mustang fans need to meet Ford halfway and settle for several foregone conclusions about the market, the segment, and its sacred product its customer base likes to covet: as the only passenger car left in the portfolio with its proven success and already iconic halo status, Ford intends to do something more with the car than just having it around to sell. Fan basers need to accept this, why else would Ford save such a vehicle?
Similarly to what GM is undergoing with Corvette as they continue to sell the old school traditional C7 platform, they’re putting the finishing touches before production on the new mid engined C8 platform, a completely different car designed to compete toe to toe with the more expensive European exotic bespoke performance brands like Ferrari. You can tell GM would like to keep C7 around a bit longer as she’s a different model from her younger, new sister. They haven’t made firm decisions about the future of either car as they’re keeping options open, but it wouldn’t surprise experts if the General decides to pull Corvette from Chevrolet and make it a stand alone brand with at least two models, a third being an all electric variant branded another Corvette, possibly a Caddy. WIth all the different versions of Mustang that Ford sells, some with the assistance of Carroll Shelby’s people that they make out in the Nevada desert, Ford is obviously looking to do something similar with Mustang and a variant or two. The issue is how to execute it without it blowing up in Ford’s face or pissing off the fan base.
Having a Prototype Would Help
Frankly the problem here is that the base doesn’t trust Ford, they’ve been screwed by them so many times with disappointing cars and insulted them by naming crap cars iconic names. It’s one thing to slap MUSTANG on something, it’s another when it performs like one. What Ford needs to do here is make one then saturate YouTube with videos drag stripping something like a Shelby GT to show the world that Mustang Squire EV GT is a badass MFer and means business. Speaking of Shelby they need to come out with their own version ASAP, in fact as soon as a spare prototype is made they should shipping it to Shelby HQ in Nevada for their input. STAT.
So perhaps if we had a better idea of what the proposed car would look like maybe we could have all the sails set in the same direction to have Karma help in speeding up the development. This is the strategy Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla is executing with his commercial tractor program: instead of fueling the Internet fire he had three prototypes built to ship batteries so the world can see how the tractor performs. Blue Oval needs to show how this Mustang can go just as fast as the 2+2 and you can have room for food shopping and the Home Depot. Our colleagues over at Motor 1 were debating if they saw a recent camo’d prototype in the wild to be the possible real thing. The problem is that with what Ford is describing will be a Mustang inspired CUV will basically be off or near the same platform Ford will use for the next gen Escape, similar in size but electrified steroided. These newer high tech modular platforms make it so much easier for car makers to make just about anything they want, and when they get to the prototype phase, it makes it easier to hide what it is they’re developing.
So whether Mustang CUV will actually be a tall riding CUV coupe, or more of a tall riding utility CUV/SUV wagon, remains to be seen. Ford would like to have at least dual motors and a battery pack that gives it around a 300 mile range which would give it its performance stripe pedigree. And Ford would like to have this car in production no later than 2020. So Ford has a lot of hurdles yet to jump through. They just need to better prepare and target their audience to make sure they listen and understand.
What do you think of a Mustang CUV. Ain’t your mom’s or dad’s Mustang? Let us know below!