DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.'s new global design boss, Moray Callum, has begun to reshape his senior leadership team with an emphasis on product versatility and global experience, particularly in Asia.
Two of Callum's new team leaders in Dearborn had stints at Ford's Asia Pacific office in Melbourne, Australia, Ford's pipeline into China, the world's largest car market. And Callum himself has Asian experience from his days at Mazda.
China is Ford's fastest growing market. Increasingly demanding and discerning Chinese customers exert ever-growing influence on global design, and Callum wants his team to be in tune with trends there.
Chris Svensson, 48, an Englishman, replaced Callum in January as lead designer in Ford's North American studios. Svensson was head of Ford's Asia Pacific studio in Melbourne before coming to Dearborn in early 2013 as exterior design chief.
Craig Metros, 50, is replacing Svensson as exterior design chief in North America. Like Svensson before him, Metros is moving to Dearborn from the top job at the Melbourne studio. Metros, who grew up in Detroit and is a painter and hot rod enthusiast in his spare time, has spent the past five years in Melbourne.
Says Callum: "We don't just expect our people to know what's going on in the world and what our global customers want, we need them to know what's going on. With Chris and Craig having worked in Asia Pacific, it's really important for us."
The Melbourne studio, which employs between 100 and 180 depending on what projects are in the works, is Ford's "conduit" to China, Callum says. Ford also has a satellite design office in Shanghai.
Ford's emphasis on China was apparent at last month's Beijing auto show. The automaker introduced three vehicles. Company officials say one -- the Lincoln MKX -- will come to the United States. Executives left the door open for a second, the Ford Escort, to be sold here.
Callum, 55, a native of Scotland who once headed design at Mazda in Hiroshima, Japan, says the Chinese influence will benefit U.S. customers.
"The great thing is the Chinese customer is a very discerning customer," he says. "They're quite open with their criticism as well."
Chinese customers are particularly picky about the quality of materials and craftsmanship on interiors, Callum says.
Svensson says Chinese customers like vehicle interiors with "light and warmth."
Not only does Callum want his leadership team to be versed in design around the globe, he's looking for people with broad-based experience with different vehicles.
"Chris has worked on everything from the original Ka [minicar] to the Transit" full-sized commercial van, says Callum, who can boast his own diverse resume ranging from the Mazda2 subcompact to the Ford Super Duty pickup. The two have worked together often and have a natural conversational rapport, sometimes finishing each other's sentences.
Callum and Svensson believe that design in the auto industry is moving forward at an ever-accelerating pace, pushed by increased competition and rapidly evolving technology.
Says Svensson: "The challenges on the design team are much harder than they ever have been. There are some great products coming from our competitors that are changing the industry."
Both see a threat from luxury brands such as Mercedes-Benz moving down-market and bringing premium, innovative designs at a price that competes with volume brands such as Ford. For example, a base-level Mercedes CLA starts at $30,825 including shipping, though loading up a CLA with options can quickly push the price to more than $40,000. A top-of-the-line Ford Fusion Titanium stickers for $31,425.
Says Callum: "We need to keep accelerating our design language. We've suffered in the past from moving, then resting, then moving again. That's just not acceptable anymore. We have to have consistency of concentration on all products, not just an emphasis on where the highest profits are."