When the designers working on the prototype of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E asked the company's executive chairman to try it out, they faced a problem. Just not the one they expected.

Bill Ford is well-known for his love of the classic Mustang. The people working on the prototype were nervous about how he would react to the idea of the company building an all-electric SUV and calling it a Mustang. They prepared themselves to have the project thrown back in their faces.

And then just the opposite happened: He wouldn't give the prototype back.

"We had to pry it out of his hands," said Hau Thai-Tang, the carmaker's chief product development officer.

And then everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Ford has a lot at stake with its first foray into the battery-electric vehicles scene that has been defined by Tesla. The company is determined to seriously compete in the most innovative segment of the automotive industry.

"The vehicle is a game changer," Ford CEO Jim Farley said. "For me, the Mach-E is the first true competitor with Tesla. It's got Detroit swagger. It's a Mustang. Tesla is not a Mustang."

Ford is scheduled to deliver the first Mach-E vehicles to customers before the end of the year. The vehicles will be made to order, the first time the company has launched a product through a reservation process. In the first year, Ford is expecting to build an estimated 50,000 globally.

Production was set back when the pandemic forced Ford to close its plants for two months, but the process is back up to speed.

"We're just entering early mass production now, where we start to build the Mustang Mach-E's in volume," Farley said.

No one can say precisely the date cars will be delivered to customers because it all depends on preproduction quality testing and review.

"We'll build them and test them and make sure they're perfect," Farley said. "We sort out every problem. Once we're satisfied we've got every problem solved, then we turn on the light switch and go into Job 1."

The 2021 Mach-E starts at $43,995 with an estimated 300-mile range. For comparison, the Tesla Model Y SUV starts at $51,900 with an estimated 326-mile range, according to its website. Buyers qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit.

A growing market

Demand for all-electric vehicles is especially high in California. Ashley Valletta, general manager of a Ford dealership in San Jose, said her firm has 50 orders for the Mach-E pending, with more in the pipeline.

Of course, Silicon Valley is filled with early adopters who pride themselves on having the first of everything, from the latest iPhone to the newest electric car. But Ford said that dealers in other areas are reporting a high level of interest, too.

While California leads the way in electric car purchases, Ford has high hopes for the Midwest and the East Coast. The company said the Scandinavian market also holds great potential. (Car sales in Norway have been at more than 50% electric for five years.)

Farley promises that the new Mustang will deliver emotion behind the wheel as well as offering impressive technology. "It will calculate traffic congestion and how the driver is driving to calculate distance remaining on the charge," he said.

Farley is confident that other die-hard Mustang fans will react to the car the way Bill Ford did. And he's not worried about pushback from drivers who prefer gas-powered vehicles.

"Our electric future is here," he said.