LOS ANGELES -- The Mustang Mach-E not only marks a serious foray into battery-electric vehicles by Ford, it also represents a risky gamble of expanding a venerable nameplate beyond the pony-car body style that defined it for more than a half-century.
The crossover, offered in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, is Ford's answer to Tesla, General Motors and others that beat it to market with a long-range EV. The Mach-E has a range of 483 km (300 miles).
Ford executives said they have learned from, and are improving on, what their rivals have done to offer a comprehensive EV strategy that includes an extensive charging network, thousands of certified service centers and access to a full federal tax credit some other automakers can no longer utilize.
The Mach-E marks a drastic change in strategy from Ford's earlier electrification efforts, which produced forgettable — and now discontinued — hybrid and electric sedans. It's relying on the cachet of the Mustang name to win over buyers who would otherwise be skeptical of EVs.
"We're asking this vehicle to accomplish a lot," said Paul Johnston, a vehicle architecture manager. "It's a [utility vehicle], it's an EV and it's a Mustang."
That decision was made shortly after CEO Jim Hackett took over in 2017. Designers decided to craft a "Mustang-inspired" vehicle, but eventually chose to add it to the pony car family after realizing similarities between EV and sports car customers.
At the same time, demand for the Mustang and other sport coupes has steadily tailed off as consumers abandon the overall car market for light trucks. Mustang sales in the U.S. sank 10 percent to 55,365 deliveries through September.
The Mach-E is the first Mustang crossover and the first all-wheel-drive Mustang. It will be built in Mexico, at the automaker's Cuautitlan assembly plant that used to manufacture the Fiesta sedan.
While traditional enthusiasts might scoff at the notion of expanding the nameplate, experts say the benefits outweigh the risks.
"Ford is promising compelling performance and attractive styling that pay proper homage to the Mustang brand," Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader, said in a statement. "If that holds true, borrowing Ford's most iconic name for its new electric SUV won't cause any damage, and might actually contribute to awareness and sales."