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Ford’s big electric push will start with this Mustang-style crossover

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The future flagship of Ford’s EV lineup

Photo: Ford Motor Company

This week, Ford showed off the first teaser image (seen above) of an all-electric performance SUV codenamed “Mach 1.” The drawing comes almost nine months to the day after the company announced the Mach 1 at the Detroit Auto Show, alongside the news that it was upping its investment into electric vehicle technology to $11 billion.

And just like any other official teaser image issued by a big company, we only see what Ford wants us to see, which is that this car is clearly styled like a Mustang, at least to a certain degree. So while this new car is all about what’s next for Ford, the company is also leaning on a product with a proven heritage. In other words, Ford is leveraging a little nostalgia as it points its customers toward the future.

It’s a clever hedge, though Ford’s far from the first to go this route. In fact, it’s a growing trend in the industry. Much like how camera companies deployed classic stylings on their cameras as they shifted from film to digital, car companies are starting to do the same.

Many of them have made similar big-budget promises in the last year or two about how they plan to shift their fleets to mostly hybrid and electric powertrains. And since electric vehicle technology still leaves people a little wary (“But what if I run out of battery on a road trip, and I’m not near a charger?” is a common question, regardless of how rare that problem might actually be), they’ve taken to softening the blow of new-ness with some nostalgia.

It’s a shrewd way for companies to remind customers that they’ve been at this game for a very long time; they’ve got this. And it’s generally a proven formula for dampening risk, too. There’s a reason movie studios have made some 20 movies based on Marvel properties or four of that have centered around the Minions characters: sequels usually sell.

The Mach 1, or whatever it winds up actually being called, is going to be the first flagship of Ford’s upcoming lineup of EVs. Therefore, it bears a lot of the weight of Ford’s own $11 billion commitment to transition away from the internal combustion engine. That it already looks a little familiar is probably going to be the least surprising thing about it.

Looking back now, the announcement of the Mach 1 at this year’s Detroit Auto Show was a harbinger of things to come. We knew it was going to be partially inspired by the Mustang, and we knew it was going to be more of an SUV than a sedan. That second part seemed a bit curious at the time. But just a few months later, Ford announced plans to cull essentially every sedan in its US lineup, save for the Mustang. Even without any details, it seemed in January that the Mach 1 would be representative of the future of Ford. Turns out, that was truer than anyone imagined.

One other thing we didn’t know was coming when Ford announced the Mach 1 was that the company would wind up making a second $11 billion announcement this year related to the costs of a big restructuring effort. Ford still hasn’t shared many details about what that restructuring will entail, but it could at the very least include job cuts. The company has also struggled in non-US markets like China and Europe, which is bad because those markets currently present huge opportunities for automakers — especially when it comes to electric vehicles.

Beyond that, Ford is also walking on some thin financial ice; Moody’s recently downgraded the company’s credit rating. In other words, it has a lot of work to do before the Mach 1 hits the road and other EVs follow.