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Tesla Model 3 vs Ford Mustang Mach-E: A Digital Tech Expert‘s Take

The auto industry is undergoing its biggest technological transformation since the advent of the internal combustion engine thanks to the rise of electric vehicles and autonomous driving. Leading this revolution is Tesla with the hugely popular Model 3 sedan. But conventional automakers are fighting back by electrifying some of their most iconic nameplates. Case in point: Ford‘s Mustang Mach-E crossover.

As a digital technology expert and EV analyst, I‘ve been closely following the development and rollout of these two high-tech electric vehicles. Let‘s take a deep dive comparison of the Model 3 and Mach-E through the lens of the cutting-edge digital innovations powering this new generation of autos.

Batteries and Electric Motors

The heart of any EV is its battery pack and electric motors. The Model 3 Long Range packs a 82 kWh lithium-ion battery driving a 258 hp permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor for an EPA estimated 353 miles of range. Tesla‘s in-house designed batteries use a unique silicon anode chemistry and advanced thermal management for world-class energy density. Impressively, the Model 3‘s electric motor uses an efficient copper rotor design and doesn‘t rely on rare-earth materials.

The Mach-E relies on pouch-type lithium-ion cells manufactured by LG Chem for its standard range 68 kWh and extended range 88 kWh battery packs. The RWD Mach-E‘s 266 hp permanent magnet motor enables a 230 mile EPA range. While the specs fall short of the Model 3, the Mach-E‘s larger extended range battery allows for up to 305 miles of range.

Charging is critical for EVs, and the Model 3 has long led the pack thanks to Tesla‘s proprietary Supercharger network. Capable of recharging at up to 250 kW, Supercharger V3 can juice the Model 3‘s battery from 10% to 80% in just 30 minutes. The Supercharger network‘s seamless plug-and-charge capability and wide availability along major routes is a huge advantage.

Ford is taking a different approach by partnering with Electrify America and other third-party charging networks. The Mach-E supports charging speeds up to 150 kW, enabling a 10% to 80% fast charge in 45 minutes. While slower than Tesla‘s best, this is still impressive. Ford also offers two years of complimentary charging at Electrify America stations. Both cars support Level 2 AC home charging at 11 kW, making overnight top-offs easy.

Autonomous Tech

When it comes to the sensors and computing hardware powering semi-autonomous driving, Tesla has staked out a differentiated technology approach from the rest of the industry. All new Tesla vehicles now rely exclusively on cameras and neural network processing to support Autopilot and eventual "Full Self-Driving" functionality. Tesla‘s self-driving computer contains two custom 260 TOPS AI accelerators to process input from 8 cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and GPS.

This is in contrast to most competitors, including Ford, who rely on hybrid sensor suites with cameras, radar and lidar. The Mach-E‘s BlueCruise system relies on input from 5 cameras, 5 radars and 12 ultrasonic sensors processed by a hands-free driving computer module. It‘s a more proven approach, but lacks the potential of Tesla‘s bleeding-edge pure computer vision system.

Tesla is effectively turning every vehicle into an autonomous data collection device to train its self-driving AI models. According to Tesla‘s 2020 Autonomy Day presentation, the company had collected over 3 billion miles of real-world driving data from customer vehicles. This gives Tesla a massive data advantage in developing autonomous driving features compared to competitors.

While BlueCruise is limited to hands-free highway driving on pre-mapped roads, Tesla‘s Autopilot offers traffic-aware cruise control, automatic lane-keeping and lane-changing, and the ability to navigate on-ramp to off-ramp. Tesla even offers in-beta "Full-Self Driving" abilities like navigating city streets, stop signs and traffic lights, auto parking and smart summon. However, Consumer Reports and other testers have found BlueCruise to be more competent and reliable within its narrower scope of operation.

The regulatory environment around autonomous driving remains uncertain, but expect this to be a key area of competition between Tesla, Ford and other automakers as the technology races ahead.

Digital User Experience

Modern EVs are as much rolling computers and software platforms as they are modes of transportation. The digital user experience is therefore crucial. The Model 3 features a giant 15-inch center touchscreen that controls nearly all vehicle functions. It‘s powered by an Intel Atom CPU running a custom Linux OS. The Mach-E has a similar 15.5-inch portrait display powered by Ford‘s SYNC 4A system. While Ford has retained some welcome physical controls, both interiors are strikingly minimalist and futurist compared to gas vehicles.

The Model 3 offers an unparalleled level of OTA software updates, with the ability to improve performance and add entirely new features over Wi-Fi. Analytics from Teslascope show that Tesla delivered 35 OTA software updates to the Model 3 in 2021 alone. Ford has promised OTA updates via its new Power-Up platform but is likely to be more conservative than Tesla in pushing out new code.

The connected capabilities of both vehicles are extensive. Standard with the Model 3 is access to streaming music, video (only in park), karaoke, video games, web browsing, calendar syncing, voice commands and phone-as-key access. It‘s an impressive array of infotainment features beyond just driving. The Mach-E offers similar connected conveniences like wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, built-in navigation, native voice control, Wi-Fi hotspot and remote access via the FordPass app.

Software on Wheels

The Model 3 and Mach-E represent a shift toward thinking of cars more as "software on wheels." The performance and capabilities of these EVs are hugely dependent on the millions of lines of code running under the hood. The pace of innovation is accelerating as a result. UBS estimates that software will account for 30% of a car‘s total value by 2030, up from just 10% today.

Tesla‘s software-first ethos permeates their entire operation from product development to sales and service. This is a radical departure from the hardware-defined cycles that have dominated the auto industry for over a century. Tesla develops 90% of the software running in its vehicles in-house, from the low-level battery management code to the high-level autonomous driving models to the user-facing touchscreen apps. This vertical integration and control over the full software stack provides a level of flexibility and adaptability that Ford and other OEMs are scrambling to match.

The Mach-E team at Ford consisted of 30-50% software engineers according to the vehicle‘s engineering manager. This software centricity was crucial to enabling the Mach-E‘s OTA update potential and advanced driver assist features. Ford is essentially playing catchup to Tesla and transitioning from a hardware-first to a software-defined vehicle mentality. CEO Jim Farley has stated that "customers will do most of their engagement with us digitally" in the future and that "the industry is going to a huge price compression, so we have to specialise our business around ‘always on‘ relationships with customers."

Sales and Service

Another crucial aspect where Tesla and Ford diverge is in how they get their vehicles into customer hands. Tesla has famously eschewed the traditional dealership model in favor of a direct sales approach. Customers order their vehicles online, often putting down deposits long before production begins. Tesla has also vertically integrated much of its sales and service operations, owning and operating its own showrooms, delivery centers and service centers. This gives them an incredible amount of control over the end-to-end customer experience.

The Mach-E, in contrast, is sold through Ford‘s established dealer network. While customers can "reserve" a Mach-E online, they must ultimately go through a franchised dealership to complete the purchase. Ford dealers are also responsible for service and repairs. This introduces inherent friction and variability into the Mach-E customer experience. Ford itself admits that many of its roughly 3,000 US dealers are ill-equipped to sell and service EVs. The company is working to streamline its sales and distribution model, but still faces the reality of antiquated dealer franchise laws in many states.

Tesla‘s online sales model and vehicle configurator provides a level of pricing transparency that is often lacking in traditional dealership interactions. The company is also well-known for its white-glove delivery service and mobile technician support. That said, Tesla has struggled at times to scale its service capacity to keep up with its rapidly expanding customer base. While the Mach-E‘s buying process may be more uneven, Ford‘s mature network of service centers and parts distribution provides an advantage in ensuring timely repair and maintenance over the long haul.

EV Ecosystem Factors

Finally, it‘s important to consider the broader EV market and ecosystem in which the Model 3 and Mach-E are competing. Global EV sales surged 43% in 2020 to over 3 million vehicles despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Tesla captured a commanding 16% share of this total EV market thanks to the continued popularity of the Model 3 and Model Y. Tesla‘s market capitalization of over $700 billion now dwarfs that of Ford and many other legacy automakers combined, a testament to investor expectations for the company‘s future growth and profitability.

However, competition is rapidly intensifying as traditional automakers like Ford bet big on an electric future. Ford is investing over $30 billion in electrification through 2025 and expects 40% of its global vehicle sales to be EVs by 2030. In addition to the Mach-E, the company has a highly anticipated F-150 Lightning pickup truck and E-Transit commercial van on the way. Ford‘s existing scale, manufacturing expertise, and supplier relationships will be key assets as it pivots to EVs.

The cost competitiveness of EVs compared to gas vehicles also continues to improve as battery prices fall. BloombergNEF estimates that the average cost of an EV battery pack has fallen from $1,191 per kWh in 2010 to just $137 per kWh in 2020. By the mid-2020s, EVs are projected to reach cost parity with internal combustion vehicles, further accelerating adoption.

Both the Model 3 and Mach-E are eligible for a federal EV tax credit of up to $7,500 in the US (subject to income and tax liability limits). However, Tesla has already exhausted its quota of 200,000 tax credits, while Ford has plenty remaining. The Biden administration has proposed extending the current EV tax credits to support his goal of reaching 50% electrification by 2030. This would level the playing field somewhat between Tesla and legacy automakers going forward.

Finally, the buildout of public charging infrastructure will be crucial to support the continued adoption of EVs like the Model 3 and Mach-E. Tesla currently operates over 25,0000 Superchargers globally, with plans to open the network to other automakers in the future. The US government has set a goal of building 500,000 new public chargers by 2030. Third-party charging operators like ChargePoint, EVgo, Electrify America and many utilities are also rapidly expanding.


In summary, the Tesla Model 3 maintains a lead over the Ford Mustang Mach-E when it comes to core EV attributes like range, charging, and performance. Tesla‘s software-centric approach also allows for unmatched OTA update capabilities and the most ambitious semi-autonomous driving features (albeit with a non-zero risk of overpromising on "Full Self-Driving"). The Mach-E counterpunches with its larger form factor, smoother ride quality, and the backing of an established automaker in Ford.

However, this is ultimately a battle that is much bigger than just the Model 3 and Mach-E. All new cars are becoming electrified, connected, and eventually autonomous. This means the real competition will be over who can build the best integrated hardware, software, and services to provide seamless digital experiences for customers. Tesla has a significant head start and software pedigree here, but Ford is bringing its manufacturing muscle and dealership network to the fight.

In the end, more compelling EVs from more automakers is a win for consumers, the environment, and the auto industry‘s technological transformation. I only expect the pace of innovation and model choice to accelerate from here as EVs steadily march toward mainstream adoption. An electric future is coming – get ready to plug into it!