Over this past weekend, I got to watch Ford v Ferrari and while I will spare you the thought of having to read through my amateur review of the movie (although you should go watch it if you have any interest in cars or motorsport), I did think that its release came at a very appropriate time as Ford will now be doing battle with Tesla that might draw some parallels with its battle with Ferrari all those decades ago.
Without giving the whole summary of the movie, Ford v Ferrari takes during the late 1960s and Ford’s entrance into the prestigious 24 Hour of Le Mans. A race that dates back to the 1920s and tests not only the speed of cars, but also their reliability as the same car has to race for a full 24 hours and end up covering distances of over 3,000 miles.
Ferrari was enjoying a lot of success from 1960 to 1965 where they had won the race six straight times. Ford at the time was not the sportiest of brands and had wanted to improve their image to drive excitement towards the brand. The American company had tried to buy the Italian racing brand in 1963 but Enzo Ferrari did not like the amount of autonomy he would have to give up to Ford and declined the deal.
In what some might call petty revenge Ford took it upon themselves to create the exciting sports car that we all know, the Ford Mustang, in 1965. But they also wanted to beat Ferrari at their own game and enlisted Carol Shelby to help beat the Italians in Le Mans. Thus the legendary GT40 was created. The GT40 would not finish its first Le Mans in 1965, but it would return in 1966 to beat out Ferrari and win 4 straight Le Mans until 1969. The ‘65 race was the last time a Ferrari would win Le Mans (however they did start to put more effort into Formula 1 racing at that time and has been having great success there).
I bring all of this up because Ford might now be repeating a battle where it tries to beat its opponent at their own game. Except this time instead of an opponent that is across the Atlantic Ocean, they’re down the street at Fremont, California. Tesla is enjoying domination in the electric car market, much like Ferrari was enjoying at Le Mans all those years. While as far as I know, Ford has never tried to buy Tesla like they did Ferrari, I am sure that the folks over at Dearborn, Michigan would like to beat Elon Musk with their own electric car.
Interestingly enough, both of these battles start with a Mustang. While Ford v Ferrari focused more on the GT40, some screen time was given to Ford’s unveiling of their Mustang which marked Ford’s intention to build sports cars and motorsports in general. Fast forward over 50 years later and now we have the Ford Mustang Mach E making its unveiling and announcing Ford’s intention to make electric vehicles. While myself and many others are lukewarm (or downright hostile) to the idea of using the Mustang name, which has so much history, for an electric crossover, you can’t argue that that isn’t some nice parallelism. Bill Ford himself was allegedly against the idea of having the electric crossover carry the Mustang brand. But the team eventually took him for a test drive and was convinced.
“When I drove it, I knew it had to be a Mustang,” Ford said. “Frankly, I was getting there before because I believed the team when they were laying all the specs out. As it evolved and I started to see the performance characteristics, not just the 0 to 60, but the handling dynamics, the driving dynamics and the styling kept evolving, at some point I realized: Yeah, this is a Mustang. The pony could go on the grille.”
Whether its Ford’s own beliefs or just some PR/Marketing opinion is up for you to decide, but the naysayers will be able to test drive the Mach E soon enough and make their own decisions on if its worthy of the name.
Ford has enjoyed being at the front of the pack for many decades now when it comes to selling their cars. The F- series of trucks has been some of the best selling in the world and the Mustang is one of the most well-known cars in history. They will now be stepping into more or less uncharted territory like they did all those years ago at Le Mans. Tesla for the first time will be seen as a juggernaut and the company to beat as established automakers start to make electric cars.
Ford has been making millions of cars annually while Tesla is still trying to produce 100,000 vehicles in a single quarter. However, when we start to focus on electric cars specifically, the script will be switched and Tesla will be the dominant one. The latest report states that Ford is planning an initial production of 50,000 Mustang Mach Es its first year of production. That comes out to about 4,166 Mach Es a month, while Tesla is currently producing over 12,000 Model 3s a month. You see how quickly the narrative can switch? Of course, in the first six months of production, Tesla managed to only produce less than 2,000 Model 3s, so this is not a knock on Ford, 50,000 Mustang Mach Es is already more than the Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-PACE. But for the first time in a while, the big blue oval will be seen as an underdog.
With the Tesla Model Y making its appearance next year and the Mustang Mach E releasing late next year, the two will constantly be pitted against one another (I mean, they are already being compared endlessly against one another). This will be the first battle between the two and we will see if it will end up looking like the ‘65 race where Ford didn’t even finish the race or the ‘66 race where they shocked the world. The battle will continue to rage on as Ford will continue to release more electric cars like their electric F-150 which will go against the upcoming Tesla Truck.
The electric automaker has already thrown down the gauntlet with Ford, posting a video on Twitter of their Cybertruck pulling a Ford F-150
Cybertruck pulls F-150 uphill pic.twitter.com/OfaqUkrDI3
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2019
Bring it on https://t.co/pCnln1NdRO
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 25, 2019
The fun would not last long, as Fox News would ask a Ford spokesperson if the challange would go on. They replied with:
“Sunny’s tweet was tongue in cheek to point out the absurdity of Tesla’s video, nothing more.”
It is disappointing, but nothing is stopping Tesla from redoing the test with an all-wheel-drive Ford F-150 to appease Ford’s criticisms.
Start marking your calendars and start taking bets (responsibly of course) and let’s see if Ford v Tesla can become the new Ford v Ferrari.
Also as an aside, if we want to continue this Le Mans metaphor, after Ford and Ferrari stints, both Porsche and Audi saw major success at the race. We all know what overzealous automotive group the both of them belong to…
It’s shaping up to be a great race.