Ford Mustang Donations Highlight Automotive Education Ecosystem

YPSILANTI, Mich. — Last week, Ford donated four Mustangs to local Washtenaw County schools to support their automotive education programs. Pioneer High School, Huron High School, South & West Washtenaw Consortium and Washtenaw Community College each took delivery of a Mustang during an event at Gene Butman Ford in Ypsilanti, just a short walk from Ann Arbor. Students and teachers were present at the event and were ultimately able to leave in the cars they would use as learning tools.

When I first heard about this donation, I thought it might make for an interesting local story that enthusiasts would enjoy. But it served as an education on an entire ecosystem between automakers, dealers and educational institutions that helps advance the industry. These car donations – including nearly 300 from Ford alone since September – help provide students with job skills and employers with an educated, up-to-date workforce.

First the cars…

The four Mustangs given were all from the 2023 model year: three GTs (including one convertible) and one EcoBoost. Some were originally ordered by customers, others were directed to the dealer’s inventory. These four rail cars suffered storm damage last year while parked in a parking lot in New Boston, Michigan, waiting to be loaded onto a train. Michael McLean, Ford’s market area coordinator, described it as “level two” flood damage, “meaning the water only came up to carpet level.”

Kenneth Lewis II, who teaches Auto Shop at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor (and also happens to be my karate instructor and who made me realize the donation was happening in the first place), spoke about plans for the Mustang. his school received. It will be used to teach basic technical skills for newer vehicles, and more. “We hope to eventually do fundraising car shows, and we already have partners who are going to donate some parts of the car so we can improve them and incorporate them into our high school drag program.”

I didn’t witness any burnout at the donation event, but there were plenty of smiles accompanied by running engines.

The donation program

I spoke to Tom Butman, general manager of Gene Butman Ford, the dealership that served as a liaison between Ford and the schools receiving the cars. His dealership had been holding the cars since November, while Tom worked on title issues and the dealership’s technicians cleaned and maintained the cars so they could be titled for donation. This included eliminating odors, fixing wiring and corrosion issues, replacing the battery (one car needed a new starter), and ensuring there would be no mold that could affect air quality. Even if the students could have benefited from some of the repairs carried out themselves, the vehicles had to meet a certain standard, particularly in terms of safety, to be eligible for donation.

Michael McLean told me about the cars, as well as Ford’s Automotive Career Exploration (ACE) program, which provides “factory-level training for students and instructors, and it’s the same training our technicians provide.” The cars were donated as part of this program. McLean told me Ford’s program involves about 20 to 30 cars per year, but it has donated nearly 300 vehicles since September 2023.

First, McLean’s team identifies candidates for donation, such as vehicles damaged in transit or otherwise unable to be sold as new — in this case, flood damage. They then work with dealers who can “sponsor” the vehicles, covering the costs of transportation, repairs and cleaning, and generally preparing them for donation. In this case, Ford contacted Tom Butman, with whom McLean worked on recruiting technicians, in part through Butman’s networks with local schools.


Clearly, these donations are a boon to students because they serve as practical learning resources, which can translate into useful career skills. However, having the latest technology generally does not fit into the school’s budget.

“A lot of these schools have old, outdated equipment and vehicles,” McLean said, “so I wanted to find a way, from a business perspective, to help introduce newer vehicles and technology into these schools.” McLean and his team began working harder to identify donor vehicles and working with dealers and educators to get newer cars into the hands of students, “so when they go into the industry, they have already completed part of this training.

But workshop programs in schools still seem to be in a precarious position. Ken Lewis described it as pruning a tree. The automotive education program may not be the prettiest part of the tree when budget cuts come (and, hoo boy, I could tell you about the staggering problems with the Ann Arbor Public Schools budget, but your community might very well have its own), and people just don’t realize how important it is. After all, these programs are a pipeline that the auto industry relies on.

And as Dan Retherford, service manager at Gene Butman Ford, told the crowd gathered for the donation event: “Over the past several years, many schools have decided that [auto repair programs are] this is not a viable type of program.

But schools have good partners. There are more than 1,500 schools (high schools and beyond) enrolled in Ford’s ACE program, with vehicle donations nationwide, including Hawaii. Kenneth Lewis also explained that Tom Butman is on his program’s accreditation advisory committee: “So he’s always in our schools, always talking to us about things we can do to improve our program.” And so when this opportunity presented itself, obviously his first thought was us, which is awesome.

Lewis also noted that before the Mustang donation, Pioneer’s nicest shop vehicle was a 2012 Hyundai Elantra, which was in the back and donated by an insurance company. “That’s usually how we get newer vehicles. Most of them arrive destroyed.

Besides providing a learning platform with the latest technology and something that can provide more fundraising and event opportunities, having something like a new Mustang is also good for student retention, Lewis said. He believes some automotive programs are disappearing from schools because students aren’t connecting with cars that aren’t even of their era. “Having something newer helps these students feel more engaged in the lessons they are taking.”


It is the responsibility of automakers and dealerships to provide these students with cutting-edge technology because these students are a pool from which they draw for their workforce. Hence the donations, hence the relationships with the concessionaires who, in turn, maintain working relationships with the schools.

I asked Tom if he had ever recruited technicians into schools. “Oh yes,” he replied, beaming, “some of our best,” before recounting the education and career paths of the people in Butman’s service department.

“We’re at a point right now where these technicians have to know a lot about different types of technology,” Tom Butman said. “And it’s not just about powertrains. It’s also about connectivity, compatibility, HVAC, hydraulics – it’s so intimidating to think about everything they need to know.

And finding talent is not always easy. Experienced technicians “are in high demand,” Butman said. “The level of compensation for these people is kind of the sky’s the limit at this point.”

Kenneth Lewis pointed out that in addition to Ford, his program also has a good relationship with Toyota. “Many of our students at Pioneer, in particular, go to Toyota to work” through their apprenticeship programs or at dealerships. “I’m trying to get as many manufacturers and dealers, and even local stores, independent stores, to come to our students and talk to them and try to get them internships and co-ops, so we can try to help them as much as possible. as large a part of the industry as possible.

Of course, other automakers and training providers also have an interest in teaching and accrediting the next generation. Just take a look at the ASE Education Foundation website for examples.

And after?

Dan Retherford told students at the event: “These are exciting times… With the advances in hybrid, plug-in and electric, we are at an inflection point of technological advancement in this industry . He added: “Getting interested in engine performance and such is great, but… I challenge you, if you really want to be the next Carroll Shelby, figure out how to get more distance, more power and so on. suite, and use less energy, from a battery, an electric motor. Think next level. Anyone can drill holes in their exhaust and put a can in it.

Tom Butman agrees. Electric vehicles “are the next step,” he said. He noted that Washtenaw Community College is launching its electric vehicle maintenance and battery technician program with a few Ford vehicles and a Tesla in its fleet (it is also launching charging station installation and semi-electric technician programs). conductors). The next step is to integrate these programs into secondary schools. “But it’s difficult,” Butman said, “because you have to have strong connections with manufacturers to figure out how to work on these products, because they’re so new and the technology is so different than before.”

“I’ve actually been trying to get an electric vehicle for years,” Kenneth Lewis told me, but cost is a barrier. “We were looking for partners to try to help us. I’m hoping we can find one soon, or some sort of grant, but it’s something that’s been in the works for a while.