Mustang Mach-E electric SUV. Photo: courtesy of Ford

Ford unveiled a high-performance electric SUV, the Mustang Mach-E, on Sunday ahead of the LA Auto Show, a sign of its new approach to electrification.

Why it matters: The Mach-E is not a "compliance car," like the lackluster Focus Electric compact it previously sold to meet federal fuel economy standards. Instead, the Mach-E is meant to be fast, fun and exciting, like the iconic Ford Mustang sports coupe.

  • Instead of building econoboxes no one wants, Ford says its strategy going forward is to "play to its strengths" by adding electric powertrains to its best-selling vehicles, including the Mustang, F-150 pickup, and its extensive lineup of SUVs and commercial vans.

Between the lines: The strategy shift came in late 2017 after CEO James Hackett joined the company.

  • Ford had been working on its first dedicated EV model to satisfy regulators, but Hackett feared it wouldn't stand out in a sea of expected plug-in models.
  • He pulled the plug on the effort and pushed engineers to come up with a new, "aspirational" design in just six weeks.
  • They tapped into what makes Mustangs exciting and translated it into an electric SUV.
  • Executive chairman Bill Ford is the one who blessed the idea of calling it a Mustang.

Details: The Mach-E goes on sale in late 2020 and will be available with standard range (230 miles) and extended range (300 miles) battery options, with both rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations.

  • Two high-performance GT versions are also planned for 2021.

Charging is a worry for consumers, so Ford is offering multiple options:

  • Free mobile charge cords so customers can plug their vehicles into either 240- or 120-volt outlets.
  • Optional installation of a faster-charging home station, in partnership with Amazon.
  • FordPass access to more than 12,000 charging locations through partnerships with leading providers.

The Mach-E features Ford's next-general SYNC infotainment system, which uses machine learning to adapt to your preferences and make personalized suggestions.

  • "It can suggest going to the gym if it learns Mondays are workout days or calling home if you do that every day after work," said Darren Palmer, Ford global director for battery electric vehicles.
  • The system can also be continually improved with over-the-air software updates.

Ford is now taking $500 deposits for the Mach-E, which is expected to range in price from about $43,895 ($36,395 after a federal tax credit) for the standard battery and around $50,000 for the extended range version.

  • "The Mustang Mach-E wholeheartedly rejects the notion that electric vehicles are only good at reducing gas consumption," said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s chief product development and purchasing officer.
  • "People want a car that’s thrilling to drive, that looks gorgeous and that can easily adapt to their lifestyle — and the Mustang Mach-E delivers all of this in unmatched style."

The big picture: Tesla has already proven that electric cars can be exciting; the rest of the industry is now catching up.

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