FORD

Ford to use Model e name it blocked from Tesla in trademark fight

Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free Press

Adults fighting over the letter E. 

It sounds like a "Sesame Street" episode gone bad. 

But it really happened.

And now the winner of that battle, Ford Motor Co., just announced that Ford "Model e" (intentionally lowercase) is the name of its all-electric auto division.

Behind the scenes, it's a story of an iconic automaker keeping a startup company based in Silicon Valley from stealing what felt like a piece of history or nostalgia.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wanted the letter E and Ford kept it from happening.

In 2014, CNNMoney ran the headline, "Ford Motor Company killed SEX."

The allegation, made by Musk, followed an annual shareholder call in Mountain View, California, during which he explained why he abandoned pursuing the trademark for what he hoped would be a Model E.

"'A friend asked me at a party what are you going to name the third-generation car? Well we have the S and the X," Musk said, "so we might as well make it the E,'" CNNMoney reported June 4, 2014.

The Tesla Model S, left, and the Model X are seen in the showroom at Somerset Collection North in Troy on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.

"Finally, Musk said Ford called him saying it would sue Tesla for using the Model E trademark. Musk continued the story, 'And we're like, Ford's killing sex ... that's terrible. So, OK fine we won't use the Model E,'" CNNMoney reported.

Over the years, Ford has sued to keep other companies from using the Model E moniker because it sounds too much like the Model T, the car for which company founder Henry Ford is known to have built as the first affordable vehicle for the masses starting in 1908. 

"'Ford and Tesla entered into a contract in 2010 in which, among other things, Tesla agreed not to register or use Model E. When Tesla later sought to register the Model E trademark, Ford insisted that Tesla abide by the parties' earlier agreement. The matter has been resolved amicably,'" a Ford spokesperson told CNNMoney in 2014.

In this case, Ford is using a lowercase letter "e" instead of uppercase because it is the letter used to represent an electron, and it applies to digital embedded systems as well as electric propulsion.

“We chose Model e to signal our ambition," Mark Truby, Ford chief communications officer, told the Free Press. "Model T changed the way people moved and changed the world in many ways. Model e has the same ambition.” 

Surge:Ford CEO Jim Farley gave us big clue automaker's stock was going to surge

Spinoff:CEO Jim Farley vows Ford Motor will not split in two — previews restructuring

Tesla exec:Ford CEO hired Doug Field away from Apple in 'huge coup'

Sometimes you can't always get what you want.

Not even billionaires.

Musk, the Wall Street darling who runs the world's leading electric vehicle maker, went on to name the vehicles Model S, Model 3, Model X and Model Y. 

Yep, S3XY.

In 2021, he saw the company's valuation climb past $1 trillion for the first time.

Matt Cooper, 42, of Dewitt, is really excited about his 2020 Tesla Model 3. Cooper purchased the car and does wonder about where he will have it serviced but knows he could have it mobile serviced at his home if need be.

The early plan

Electrek and Automotive News reported in 2016 that the Dearborn automaker planned to challenge the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 with an all-electric car that was planned to begin production in 2019.

The all-electric 2021 Mustang Mach-E SUV made its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2019 and went on sale a year later.

Dr. Sian "Leo" Proctor, a SpaceX astronaut, with her Ford Mustang Mach-E wrapped with a blue ribbon.

Now, Ford is using Ford Model e (lowercase) as the name for an all-electric division within Ford, an announcement made early Wednesday.

"Henry Ford built the company off the success of the Model T, making 'Model e' an effective look forward and look back as it enters this transitional period," said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for the iseecars.com shopping site.

Ford Motor Company CEO Jim Farley stands in a room with Model T vehicles at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit on Jan. 14, 2021.

Ford values its history and nameplates like few other companies do, Farley said. 

"Choosing the name is very intentional. We keep telling people this is the biggest transformation of the company since the scaling of the Model T," Farley told the Free Press.

"We knew that Model e was going to be important at Ford Motor Company," he said. "Did we know it was going to be for this announcement, three or four years ago? Absolutely not. We protected it for a darn good reason."

More:She is chief engineer of the Ford Bronco Everglades, pushing innovation and change

More:Ford doubles annual bonuses amid worker fury over controversial formula

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard:313-618-1034 orphoward@freepress.com.Follow her on Twitter@phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.