Mays: Flashy MKZ grille isn't gospel for future models
NEW YORK -- The 2013 Lincoln MKZ sedan has a new split grille featuring chrome horizontal bars meant to evoke an eagle's spread wings.
Lincoln calls the grille a major signifier of its future design direction. But Lincoln won't necessarily use the look on every future car or crossover, says Ford Motor Co.'s top designer. That would be in keeping with Lincoln's long history of putting many different faces on its vehicles.
"We haven't made an announcement that every single car within the lineup is going to have the same grille bars," J Mays, Ford's group vice president of design, told Automotive News at the New York auto show. "We needed with the MKZ to signal a new generation of Lincolns. That's the first of the new cars to come with what I would call a more innovative face on it."
What will be similar across Lincoln nameplates is the shape of the grille apertures and adjacent headlights, Mays said. "You have the outside perimeter of the headlamp and grille. That's what makes a Lincoln. I don't want to confine the design team to just one grille texture."
Lincoln decided to redo the vertical "waterfall grille" that has been the face of the brand in recent years. The grille's huge chrome bars polarized customers and were panned for giving Lincolns a toothy look.
So designers put the big chrome bars on a diet. They're much slimmer and more elegant looking on the 2013 MKS sedan and MKT crossover, now arriving at dealerships.
The 2013 MKZ grille was designed by Lincoln's new design chief, Max Wolff, who came to Ford from Cadillac in 2010. He is the youthful face of a brand that is reinventing itself.
Wolff arrived after the MKZ design was finished and promptly suggested a change.
"I'll give credit to Max on that," Mays said. "When I brought him in from GM, he said, 'Is there anything we can do to the grille?' I said, 'There's loads we can do with the grille. What do you have in mind?' He wanted to keep the split grille, which I think is a good decision, but he wanted to experiment with changing the grille bars from vertical to horizontal."
Ford's J Mays: The MKZ is the first of a new generation of Lincolns to come with "a more innovative face on it."
The horizontal bars on the 2013 MKZ hark back to the 1938 Lincoln Zephyr. Lincoln grilles in that era were designed to evoke the bow of a ship parting the waves.
But Mays said Lincoln did not want to get trapped by its own history with the new design.
"I think when most people hear the word 'Lincoln,' there's still a feeling that it's an older person's car. A lot of people feel that the brand has been handcuffed a bit by tradition. In order to break out of that, we had to do a car that, when you pull the cover off of it, no one is going to say it has a retro quality or make too much of a point about how it relates to past Lincolns," he said.
Lincoln doesn't want to get trapped in using the same grille on different sizes of vehicle, Mays said. That sameness is the approach employed by Audi and BMW.
"There's nothing wrong with that strategy. I just don't think it's the right strategy for us," said Mays, who was Audi design chief before moving to Ford in 1997.
The MKZ "is the first car of what will be a pretty long year journey of Lincolns," said Mays. "It takes years to build a brand up. The MKZ is the first step on that road."
You can reach Bradford Wernle at email@example.com.