Ripoff or recontextualization? The Ford crossover EV’s Mustang inspiration is a sign of things to come
From powertrains to body styles, the vehicle market is evolving rapidly; how beloved nameplates fit in to the future remains to be seen
It’s been interesting to watch the reaction to Ford’s upcoming Mustang-inspired EV, which we’ll see next month potentially as the Mach-E. There’s been a healthy amount of skepticism about whether the pony car concept works as a crossover (which is totally fair) and comparatively little about the fact that it’s a full electric (which is somewhat surprising).
But the most common sentiment is indignity: They’re calling this thing a Mustang? It’s an interesting case study the challenges automakers face when dragging beloved aspects of their heritage into the future.
To be clear, we don’t actually know what the upcoming EV is going to be named; Ford repeatedly refers to it as “Mustang-inspired” in its teaser materials, but that’s it. From what we’ve seen in teasers, the front and rear end will incorporate styling cues from the current internal combustion-powered pony car. So some direct connection with the Mustang bloodline is a given, even if the vehicle doesn’t end up having “Mustang” anywhere in its name.
That tying the vehicle to the beloved pony car happens to be creating controversy, and therefore press, cannot be accidental.
This is total speculation, but “Mustang” could evolve into a sort of performance sub-brand within the Ford lineup, incorporating performance-oriented vehicles of varying body styles and propulsion methods. Sounds crazy, but rumors (all unsubstantiated…so far) about a Corvette sub-brand have been floating around for a while.
In any case, the meaning of Mustang in the broader context of Ford performance seems poised for a shakeup, starting with the vehicle that will debut next month. That it’s going to be electric and a crossover — a double whammy of sacrilege! — makes the Blue Oval’s play all the riskier.
While electrification adds a new dimension to the discussion, we’ve had this conversation — about the ongoing meaning of certain enthusiast-favorite models in the face of dramatic change — before. Speaking of Corvettes, remember the whole “is a midengine Corvette really a Corvette?” debate? The C8 seems to have silenced most (if not all) of the doubters.
Likewise, we all rolled our eyes when Porsche decided to call its high-power Taycans Turbos, despite the electric vehicle’s decided absence of turbochargers, but that doesn’t stop us from appreciating the car itself. Anyway, that Turbo badge lost some of its punch, or at least specificity, when base 911s went forced induction.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that we’re willing to roll with shakeups to longstanding naming convention, so long as the product is good.
On the other hand, when Porsche launched its SUV in 2002, causing no small number of enthusiasts at the time to wonder whether the hallowed brand had totally lost the plot, it didn’t call it the 911 Cross Turismo — it called it the Cayenne. Leaning on heritage isn’t always the right move.
Despite its resonance with enthusiasts, a model name like Mustang, and a logo as cherished as the galloping horse, are tools used to sell product first and foremost. When deployed effectively, they can help bridge the gap between the fondly remembered past and the unknown future. The reality is that automakers are not always going to get it right.
Whether Ford nails it with the vehicle known, for now, only as a Mustang-inspired EV, remains to be seen. But as companies redouble their efforts to bring alternative power vehicles to market (and yes, cash in on the unstoppable crossover craze — they are businesses, after all), we’re going to see more of what Ford is attempting with its upcoming EV.
And if this appropriation and/or recontextualization of historical touchstones is more than you can bear, be thankful that we at least still have Morgan. Right?