Ford may be slowing its $11-billion EV investment program but it’s still rolling out new entries, and two of them will make their debut at the Chicago Auto Show this coming week. Notably, both the Mustang Mach-E Rally and F-150 Lightning Switchgear take aim at those looking for off-road-capable battery-electric vehicles, a growing EV niche.
With EV sales growth slowing down in recent months, automakers are looking for ways to recharge demand. Ford is betting there’s a new niche to tap into by targeting the market for off-road-ready vehicles.
It will offer a sense of what it’s going after at the Chicago Auto Show later this week with variants of its two retail EVs, the Mustang Mach-E Rally, and the F-150 Lightning Switchgear.
Mustang Mach-E Rally
“Mustang Mach-E Rally puts Ford’s decades of passion for rally championships around the world right in the hands of our customers. It takes Mustang where it hasn’t been before — to gravel and dirt roads. Inspired by true driving enthusiasts, a driving experience like never before for the pure joy of driving,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement.
What we already know about the Rally is that it’s focused more on Baja-style conditions than the sort of rock-crawling you might expect to do in places like Moab or on the Rubicon Trail.
The suspension has been raised 20 millimeters, or a little less than an inch, over the stock Mustang Mach-E GT. It gets the MagneRide magnetically controlled shocks found in the GT performance package, as well as 385-mm front brake rotors with red-painted Brembo calipers. Rally rides on 235/55 R19 Michelin CrossClimate2 tires mounted on gloss white 19-inch rally-style alloy wheels. There’s additional underbody protection, as well as protective film on the doors and fender arches. And a recovery hook is added up front, said Ford, “should off-highway adventures ever get a little too spicy.”
The drivetrain produces 480 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque out of its twin-motor layout, one on each axle. The system draws power from a battery pack with 91 kWh of usable capacity, enough for an EPA-estimated range of 250 miles. The pack can go from 10 to 80% capacity when using a public quick charger in as little as 36.5 minutes, according to Ford – though that depends upon the output of the DC fast charger.
F-150 Lightning Switchgear
The upgrades to the stock Lightning are extensive and are reminiscent of what Ford has done with the latest F-150 Raptor R, which has proved its mettle in places like Johnson Valley, California, home to the King of the Hammers off-road race.
To start with, Switchgear gets a significantly widened track and replaces its standard rubber for 37-inch NITTO Ridge Grappler 37×12.5R18 off-road tires. The engineering team also has made a number of changes to suspension travel, while ground clearance varies between 7.0 inches up front and 5.0 in the rear in the on-road configuration and 13.5 and 11 inches, respectively, when configured for off-roading.
Few courses are tougher than King of the Hammers and to take that punishment, Switchgear goes for Fox 3-inch diameter internal bypass shocks. Up front, it has a double-wishbone suspension. In back, engineers opted for a multilink independent suspension with coil-over shocks, a stabilizer bar and custom control arms.
Switchgear, meanwhile, gets new carbon composite front bumpers, bed sides and rear bumper cover. But steel fabricated rock rails, along with a new front skid plate, help take the blows that you can expect to face in serious rock-crawling situations.
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Availability and pricing
The Mustang Mach-E Rally “will be available to purchase in early 2024 and deliveries will begin shortly afterward,” Ford said in a statement ahead of the EV’s Chicago Auto Show appearance. It’s expected to carry a sticker price of around $65,000 before options and delivery fees.
It will join the current line-up of Mustang Mach-E trims, as well as another new addition, the Mach-E Bronze package also making a first public appearance in Chicago.
As for the F-150 Lightning Switchgear, it’s officially described as a “demonstrator” vehicle that is making its first public appearance this week at the King of the Hammers race. In a statement, Ford noted that it “showcases the possibilities of what an electric vehicle can be and provides a playground for engineers to advance learnings quickly for future electric vehicles.”
There’s a strong likelihood that a production off-road version based on the Switchgear will follow, several Ford sources told Headlight.News, in the not too distant future.
Ford isn’t the first automaker to target potential demand for off-road capable electric vehicles. Jeep has had significant success with two plug-in hybrids, the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee 4xe models. The former is, in fact, the best-selling PHEV in the U.S. And Jeep is getting ready to roll out a pure battery-electric model in the coming year.
The automaker “learned a lot” from the Wrangler 4xe, said Jim Morrison, until recently the head of the Jeep brand. Serious off-roaders routinely put their vehicles in “battery-saver” mode, only going all-electric when out on the trail. They discovered several advantages, explained Morrison, including the benefits of relying on the instant torque of an electric motor to help clamber over rocks and other obstacles. Another plus was the ability to operate in near silence while traversing the wilderness.
Rivian already offers off-road-ready versions of its R1T EV pickups and R1S SUV. GMC has its Hummer EV. A number of other “legacy” manufacturers are reportedly working on off-road versions of their current and future models. So is Ineos, the British start-up that recently introduced its Grenadier SUV to the U.S. market. It plans to have a unique EV model ready within the next three to four years.