Mustang Mach-E buzz pulls first-time customers to Ford dealers

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

This story has been updated to correct the plant where the Mach-E will be built. It will launch from the Cuautitlan, Mexico, facility.

Ford dealers have met some new customers over the last two weeks, and they have the Mustang Mach-E to thank for it.

Ford Motor Co. debuted its first-ever electric SUV on Nov. 17 in Los Angeles, at an event live-streamed to more than 140,000 people. The automaker said then it would start taking $500 reservations for the Mach-E that night, a full year before it hits dealer floors.

The company won't say how many buyers have stepped up, but the publicity about the event has pulled Mach-E buyers to Ford showrooms even though there are none to see or drive.

In the two weeks since its debut, the Mach-E has been pulling customers to Ford dealers even though there are none to see or drive.

"It's been exciting for the store," said Tim Hovik, owner and general manager of San Tan Ford outside of Phoenix. He is one of the top Ford dealers in the U.S., and had taken 47 reservations for the Mach-E as of Monday morning. "I've been doing this 27 years, and you can kind of count on one hand the times we've dipped our toe into a completely new segment."

Hovik said about two out of every three Mach-E reservations taken at his dealership are from people with whom he's never done business. Some have never owned an electric vehicle.

Then there are customers like 41-year-old Glendale, Arizona, resident Travis Myrick, who reserved his Mach-E GT last Tuesday. Myrick has an F-150 and a 2015 Mustang GT in his garage. He drove to Hovik's dealership to reserve his spot in line for the fastest trim of the Mach-E after catching a few Mach-E commercials and reading about it online.

Myrick had test-driven his friends' Teslas and had been impressed with their capabilities. But he couldn't bring himself to make the leap. Tesla's service department seemed like too much of a hassle, he said.

He's not sure yet if the Mach-E will be a secondary vehicle, or replace something currently in the garage. Myrick hasn't seen the car yet, nor is it available for test drives. But he likes Ford, and he likes Mustang. And he likes that the Mach-E can go fast and lessen his impact on the environment at the same time.

"It's going to be basically half the price of a Tesla, and I've got to think the technology is going to be better," he said. "I honestly think it looks better. To me, it seems like a perfect fit."

Since the Mach-E's debut two weeks ago, the hour-long recorded press conference has been viewed 6.5 million times online, Ford says. And 1.6 million people have visited the Mach-E's main web page, which Ford built and tweaked to ensure a seamless ordering experience.

"We've never to my knowledge put this amount of information out for a reveal,"  said Matt VanDyke, Ford director of U.S. Marketing. "We've never seen high traffic to our website for a reveal. This one is really off the charts."

The new Mustang did cause some unintended uproar: More than 13,400 people have signed an online petition to get Ford to remove the storied Mustang name and badge from an unconventional SUV powered by a battery hidden beneath the floor.

But everything adds to the buildup, experts said. That's a good thing for an automaker attempting to reinvent itself and prove to consumers, investors and employees that it's ready for the future.

"There's certainly a lot of buzz, which is the most important thing for any new vehicle," said Karl Brauer, an auto analyst with Kelley Blue Book. "This is exactly what Ford wanted to do, and they seem to have done it. And they're bringing non-Ford people into Ford dealerships, which is the dream of any automaker."

Beginning trim levels for the Mach-E start at $45,000. But the vehicle could be in short supply come launch time. Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of automotive, said shortly after the Mach-E launch that Ford would be limited to around 50,000 units out of its Cuautitlan, Mexico, plant in the first year of production. That's due to constraints on battery supply, he said.

Ford officials said the reservation system will allow the automaker to figure out which regions will need the most supply when the Mach-E starts rolling off the assembly line in 2020. But if the automaker can sell 50,000 in the first year, that would be a stellar start.

"You can't ignore 50,000-plus," Brauer said. "They know that 50,000 is a number that proves interest, and that proves viability. Only Tesla and GM have crossed the 200,000-vehicle mark.

"If Ford can hit a quarter of that in one model year, if they can get demand for 50,000 vehicles, they get to say they sold a lot, and they get to say they sold everything they could build."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau