BRADFORD WERNLE

Ford of Europe's quiet designer made a big impact

COMMENTARY
Bradford Wernle is staff reporter for Automotive News.
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The Sunday Times of London once referred to him as "Audi's Modest Mr. Smith."

Indeed, Martin Smith, Ford's longtime European executive design director, is not a man of many words.

The taciturn native of Sheffield, England, has always preferred to let his vehicle designs do the talking from his long career at Audi through stints at Porsche and Opel and the last 10 years at Ford of Europe.

Ford announced last week that Smith, 64, will be leaving his post as design director at Ford of Europe on July 1 to be replaced by Joel Piaskowski, 45, now head of Ford's Strategic Concepts Group.

Until his retirement at the end of the year, Smith will work on a project studying Ford's future design for Moray Callum, Ford's global design director.

"Martin's leadership and passion for great design not only invigorated Ford of Europe's lineup but influenced Ford designs globally," said Raj Nair, Ford's global product development chief.

Smith was one of a coterie of former Audi designers who came to Ford. Those included his boss, recently retired Ford global design director J Mays, and Chris Bird, head of color and materials.

He made a stop at Opel before Mays recruited him to Ford of Europe in 2004, and he wasted no time getting to work.

Smith has left a major mark on Ford's designs. Under Smith's direction, Ford's European studios in Cologne, Germany, developed the Kinetic Design language, also known as Energy in Motion, with the SAV Concept and the Iosis Concept, both shown in 2005.

Those cars led to production models such as the S-Max, second-generation C-Max, Kuga/Escape and Fiesta. The popular Fusion derives from the Kinetic Design theme. Smith once described Kinetic Design as "dynamic lines and full positive surfaces resulting in a muscular shape."

As Ford has moved from regional to global designs under CEO Alan Mulally's One Ford plan, that muscular shape is the quiet designer's legacy.

You may e-mail Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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