What a pillbug-shaped electric Mustang says about Ford

The old saying about there being no such thing as bad publicity is receiving a thorough crash-testing with the debut of Ford’s electric pillbug, disrespectfully yclept “Mustang Mach-E” and bearing a strong resemblance to the BMW X-whatevers and various Mercedes “coupe” trucks. It’s a two-edged sword. The mass media is talking about the thing because it uses the well-known Mustang name, but the existing population of Mustang owners and fans are furious at what they rightly see as a deliberate devaluation of a nameplate that means quite a bit to quite a few people.

I have no doubt that part of Ford’s leadership sees this as a classic “build the brand, burn the brand” situation. This happens all the time, in products as diverse as socks and supercars. You spend years investing in something, over-promising and over-delivering to customers while creating a brilliant reputation. This cuts into your profits, naturally. Then you capitalize on that brand image with a cheaper product, or a variant of the product away from the core market —and that is when you have a license to print money.

Mercedes-Benz, as an example, went through a classic “burn the brand” cycle with the W210 E-Class and W220 S-Class cars, which were far cheaper to make than their overbuilt predecessors and which often sold at transaction prices below those of the cars that previously occupied those spaces on showroom floors. Eventually the buyers got wise to the cost-cutting, so Mercedes had to “reboot” those segments with the brilliant but expensive W212 and W221 cars. Porsche has been burning its brand pretty steadily since 1999; the company that used to turn out 10,000 or so air-cooled sports cars a year, almost by hand, now earns its bread from vehicles that are indistinguishable at a distance from the Honda CR-V. 

There’s a cost to these very profitable digressions. A lot of buyers lost their trust in Mercedes-Benz during the early part of the 21st century (your author among them), and that trust will take a long time to rebuild. Meanwhile, Porsche has to account for the fact that the 12-year-olds of 1980 thought of the marque as “that amazing sports car,” but today’s 12-year-olds think of a Porsche as “the wagon that Mommy has to keep taking in for service.” 

Arguably, Ford burned the Mustang brand once before, in 1974. I’m one of the people who believe the Mustang II was the right car at the right time; it shared a lot more, conceptually, with the 1964½ original than most people were willing to admit. The market agreed, for a few years at least , but the specter of “compact Mustangs” with very little “show” and almost no “go” lingered in the marketplace pretty much until the day Vanilla Ice made the “5.0” badge a permanent part of American pop culture. A second misstep, with the sometimes unlovely and often underpowered SN95 cars, meant that Ford had to pull out all the stops with the generations of Mustangs that followed.

Which it did. Along with the F-150 and the C7 Corvette, the current Mustang is a perfect example of American carmakers building vehicles that are every bit as well-conceived and well-executed as the best of the foreign competition. You can pay 30 grand for it, or $105K. You can have 300 horsepower or 760. There are convertibles available, special editions to stir nostalgia or raise the interest of young buyers, and at least six different high-performance configurations from 2.3 EcoBoost Performance to GT500 Carbon Track Package.

If you know anything about what it costs to develop and build new cars, you’ve probably wondered how Ford justified this level of involvement in a product line that has sold over 100,000 units in just two of the past 11 years. Well, now you know. The Mustang name, built through painstaking years of Trinity engines and Grand-Am race wins, will now be burned into the nose of an electric pillbug.

The saddest part of this is that the Mustang II made money for Ford, but the Mach-E is less of a functional business proposition than a sacrifice to the Molochian deity of modern progressive and collectivist thought. Everybody at the Detroit automakers, and at all the other automakers, knows that electric cars in their current form are a complete fantastical piece of nonsense; they hoover up rare and strategic materials from supply chains that make OPEC look like your friendly neighborhood tree farm while placing massive drains on national electric grids that currently don’t appear adequate to the task of powering all the PlayStations in California. The electric emperor isn’t just naked, he’s stark-raving mad. If you’re foolish enough to point this out, you get a one-way helicopter ride out of the investor class.

Electric cars, like a surprising and dismaying number of other social trends at the moment, have almost no popular support but are nonetheless considered “inevitable” by the media/government/industrial complex. The plain fact is that they are niche products — and they will remain niche products until at least three separate miracles happen in their production, distribution, and refueling. This should inspire Ford to be as cautious as possible, but instead it is taking the one nameplate it has left with any equity—Mustang—and slapping it on what looks like exactly the same vehicle everyone else is developing.

I’ve noticed for a while now that a surprising number of people in the car business are actively ashamed of what they do for a living. The gasoline-powered automobile has done more to improve our lives than almost any other individual invention known to man, but it’s also seen as a low-class, stinking, hopelessly ignorant amusement of the proletariat by the chattering classes who can’t get enough of completely meaningless bibelot trinkets like the AirPods or Airbnb. These people cannot understand our attachment to the automobile, and since they cannot understand it, they fear it. Since they fear it, they have sworn to destroy it. No doubt the heretical aspect of calling this vehicle a “Mustang” is a feature and not a bug to a whole class of individuals who despise the American love affair with the car and who delight in anything that helps destroy that love affair. It’s not that they don’t care about our emotional involvement with Mustangs, it’s that they are actively working to tear that involvement down. 

1958 Ford Thunderbird
1958 Ford Thunderbird Ford

No doubt that played into Ford’s decision to call this a “Mustang” and not a “Thunderbird,” which would have made far more sense. This Mach-E is fundamentally a 1958 “Squarebird”—a four-seat vehicle meant to capitalize on the emotions and fashions of the moment. But calling the Mach-E a ’Bird wouldn’t have the secondary satisfaction of sticking a finger in the eye of everyone who has ever restored a 1966 ragtop or taken a deep breath before signing a 72-month note on a GT350R. It wouldn’t be quite as socially admirable.

No doubt some of you will be tempted to boycott Ford, or to cancel the purchase of a “real” Mustang, as a result of this stunt. Please don’t. When you do that, you take power and influence away from the people in that company who love cars, and you give it to the mandarins who think of “mobility” as a mere service to be delivered as impersonally as the latest Amazon package on your doorstep or the most recent bit of garbage from Netflix. If you love these cars, as Michael Bloomfield might say, buy ’em as you please.

And don’t let the Mustang Mach-E worry you too much. This too shall pass. Plus, there is a genuine satisfaction to be had in driving one of these fantastic fast Fords of the modern era, knowing that no electric-car driver of the past, current, or future will know the true joy of ripping a properly-tuned engine and transmission through the gears. 

The electric SUV truck-thingy Mustang will prosper or falter without your help, but the era of truly great Shelbys, GTs, and Ecoboosts may not last forever. Should the worst come to pass, and should all the great cars to wear the pony over the years be consigned to the dust of history and obsolescence, won’t you want to have been one of the lucky few to have had your time behind the wheel?

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