Great artists steal: Why Ford’s Mustang Mach E was inspired by Tesla in all the right ways

Ford’s Mustang Mach E electric crossover is a big deal for the auto industry. There’s no denying that an iconic brand like the Ford Mustang getting rebuilt from the ground up with a compelling electric makeover is a historic moment in the movement away from ICE vehicles.

But how we got to this point is just as important as this vehicle. And what I’ve found out after a few weeks of Ford interviews and research is that much of this Mach E Mustang was inspired by Tesla.

Maybe they were just blowing sunshine…at me…but the Ford executives I spoke with absolutely think this is the future of the Mustang and of the wider Ford product line. They readily admit that everything Ford has done up until today in electrification was compliance focused and not at all compelling from a drive standpoint. Sorry, Focus Electric drivers.

Everything changed when Jim Hackett took over from Mark Fields as Ford CEO a little over two years ago. One Hackett quote stuck out at me at the time, and rings true after seeing the Mustang Mach E finished product:

“The biggest challenge, is to have everybody see the future,” Hackett said. “It’s our right to win there. We don’t have to cede that to anybody. Tesla, anybody.”

From day one of Hackett’s tenure, Tesla was the company that Ford wanted to emulate more than anything else. Sure, Ford has a ton of stuff going for them including a great legacy. But looking to the future, a lot had to change at Ford. More technology. More innovation. Faster updates. Less meetings and bureaucracy. Quicker thinking and reactions. Boldness. –– These are all statements I’ve heard Ford talk about, describing what the team had to accomplish in making this Mustang in just two years.

Ford Mustang Mach-E

During every step of the Mustang reveal you can see Tesla’s influence.

I want to clarify here and will along the way: This is a great thing. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said on numerous occasions that Tesla’s mission is to move the whole industry forward more quickly. This is exactly what that that influence looks like.

Mustang Mach E drives and reveal in Tesla’s literal back yard

As the vans full of Mach E journalists pulled off the 105 highway, I was shocked to see SpaceX headquarters and the adjacent Tesla Design studio in the background. We were pulling into the hanger where Tesla holds all of its Los Angeles events. Journalists were looking out for CYBRTRKs (OK, me too). I was calculating the odds that this was some sort of coincidence. How many places are there in the Los Angeles area to have a car event? To use the same spot that Tesla often uses seemed a little…ballsy.

I asked a Ford rep later and they indicated that no, it wasn’t in fact a coincidence and they wondered if I thought they were sending a message. I definitely do, though that message may have a lot of different interpretations depending on which “horse” you are backing.

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Electric Mustang development: Mach speed

At every press briefing from interior/exterior design, center stack, battery, motor, etc there was one thread that bound the project together: that Ford considered this an urgent project in both time and significance. It is basically Ford’s do-or-die project and nowhere is that more obvious than their choice to use their most iconic brand: Mustang. If this fails, so does Mustang.

Not only was the Mach E project make-or-break, it had to be done quickly and, quite coincidentally I’m sure, timed with Tesla’s release of the Model Y. When Hackett stepped in, the car that would eventually become the Mustang was still a “compliance car” (Ford’s words) with short wheelbase, 15-inch wheels and probably resembled a Ford Focus Electric v2 – with the accompanying anemic range. Hackett’s team redesigned the whole car from the ground up. In Ford’s words, this would have to be a monumental car to carry the pony logo.

With reduced meetings, approval times and general bureaucracy, the teams got the transition done in two years, something that would have taken twice as long at the “old Ford”. Tesla of course is often –– I’d argue rightfully –– criticized for rushing things out the door without the same level of testing that legacy automakers go through. Time will tell if Ford was able to eliminate mistakes that those additional years of QA would have caught, but brief rides in prototypes –– literally circling SpaceX/Tesla’s LA campus and on the Hawthorne airport taxiway where I first felt Ludicrous mode and experienced the Roadster 2.0 –– went very smoothly. Acceleration wasn’t ludicrous, particularly right off the line. But it was certainly close to the equivalent Model 3/Ys I’ve ridden in.

Ford Mustang Mach-E

Mach E Interior: I made this

If Ford doesn’t want us to draw direct lines to Tesla, they sure didn’t show it. Nowhere was that more pronounced than the Mach E interior. Getting inside, it felt like a Model 3 interior in a weird and strange way: minimalistic heating and cooling ducts that ran the length of the dashboard; big tablet screen in the middle; even the center console between the seats felt …similar.

Surprisingly, I really think the differentiations from Tesla which Ford incorporated were almost all positive experiences. The gear shifter is a dialer instead of Tesla’s stalk. And Ford has a nice driver side display for speedometer and other important driver needs, as opposed to the Model 3’s single center display.

Obviously you are sitting a significantly higher than the Model 3 (more like the X or Y) and that makes getting into the vehicle a whole lot nicer, especially for my 46-year-old knees and back. The seats are more cushioned and luxurious compared to Tesla’s, which I would call sporty/minimalist. Ford is going 100% vegan on the interior, including the steering wheel, which Tesla has also committed to on Model 3/Y starting next year.

The rear space is friggen huge and even folks well over 6 feet tall will feel comfortable in the back. The glass roof (yes, Tesla) really helps here.

Mach E center stack

Hey, a huge vertical tablet interface right in the middle of the dashboard without many other buttons anywhere. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

While the Mach E center console might look like they mixed in a little Model S/X with a few parts Model 3, the actual interface is a lot different and in many ways nicer. For one, the Mach E has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so not only do you get to use your smartphone apps and technology but you don’t even have to take it out of your pocket. There are 2 Qi wireless charging ports if you do want to charge your smartphone and, get this, even a USB-C charging plug (though Ford’s interface folks couldn’t answer what amperage it delivers).

The screen itself is beautiful and bright with a dial that sticks out of the lower middle portion. This is actually ingenious as it is just glued onto the display and is currently dedicated to volume control though Ford engineers said that it could be updated to do a lot more in future OTA updates.

Mach E Software Updates

Speaking of updates, Ford is saying it is matching Tesla not only with OTA updates for the center stack but for the rest of the car’s software as well. Ford could theoretically improve pony-power or range with future updates just like Tesla, though I would keep my expectations a little (and by this I mean a lot more than a little) lower from a frequency and significance standpoint.

Ford’s interface is tile-based and very smooth in early testing. It also has its own in-house maps and charging spot-finding technology that it licenses from a set of other companies. So if you don’t have a smartphone with you, you can still navigate and listen to music including streaming Sirius.  There are up to 3 different driver profiles that can be set for the Mach E, as well as a fourth guest profile to keep your settings separate.

Mach E Exterior

When Ford invited me to Dearborn last month to preview what we are seeing today, my first reaction to the unveiling was “this is a beautiful car, but it doesn’t scream: ‘Mustang'”. At the time, I was looking at it from the side rather than the front and rear which each have signature Mustang accents.

However, over the past month, I’ve almost entirely reversed course to the point that I would almost call the rest of the ICE-powered lineup the Mustang imposters. And, if you believe Ford’s rhetoric (and I do), that is indeed the case. This is the new Mustang from which all others will be derived. The others are classics.

I’m not going to give credit to Tesla for inventing the crossover form factor, though they did popularize the skateboard battery pack which optimizes this design. Ford puts 98.8kWh of LG batteries below the car which, at 300 miles of range, makes the efficiency a lot closer to a Model X than a Model Y.

Mach E Frunk

Ford Mustang Mach-E Frunk

Yep, the Mach E even has a frunk, and they even call it a frunk, just like Tesla. It is huge and waterproof and insulated for perfect cooler applications. There’s even a drain so you can clean it out with a hose. Perfect for dirty clothes or stinky foods. But of course this was popularized by Tesla.

Mach E specs vs. Tesla Model Y

Fred already did a great post on the specs comparison between the Mustang Mach E and the Model Y after Mach E specs were leaked a few days ago. With similar release dates and such similar specs in terms of range, room, price, etc. it is hard to deny that these two American-designed and built EVs are going to go head to head.

Ford Mustang Mach E Select Tesla Model Y Standard Range Plus
Price: $43,895 $43,000 (Estimated)
Range: 230 miles (EPA) 230 miles (EPA)
0-60 mph: mid-5 seconds 5.9 seconds
Cargo Space: 59.6 cubic feet 66 cubic feet


Where Ford needs to go next

There’s no question that Ford has taken inspiration from a lot of the great things that Tesla has done, and its Mustang Mach E looks to be an incredible vehicle as a result. But there are some additional moves Ford could make to further its EV ambitions.

The Ford Network of EV chargers is just a mishmash of other EV charging networks out there, including slow Level 2 chargers. Each of these networks suffers from speed and reliability issues. Ford needs to own this.

We’ve seen that Ford’s Lincoln subsidiary already has its Tesla-looking Superchargers ready. Ford would be well served to build out its own charging network.

(Update: and now we’ve got a photo of a Ford-branded version of their Supercharger-looking level 2 chargers, from the Mach E reveal event, see right)

ford tesla supercharger knockoff

As of now dealers who will sell the Mach E (1100 are currently signed up) will be required only to have a Level 2 charging station. Ford could make a huge step into having a real nationwide charging network by requiring dealers to install their own 150kW Level 3 charging networks. In fact, it would be a great way to educate prospective buyers on how easy and quick it is to charge the vehicle.

Speaking of dealers, Ford is doing something it never has before in taking $500 deposits for the Mach E online. They should also give customers a way to avoid the dealership experience all together (yes, like Tesla). Not for everyone, but for people who know what they want and don’t want to haggle or wait.

Tesla’s influence makes the Mach E better

To sum it all up here, it is clear that this Mach E would not exist without Tesla. But Ford should be proud of the fact that it is able to not only turn its poor EV showing around but in many ways catch up to Tesla. The Mach E will be an excellent EV for those people who, for whatever reason, don’t want a Tesla, but still want much of what it has to offer and in many cases much more. In fact, I’m very seriously considering throwing my own $500 down.


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Avatar for Seth Weintraub Seth Weintraub

Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites. Tesla Model 3, X and Chevy Bolt owner…5 ebikes and counting