Ambition drives Lincoln's design

The 'more human brand' strives to set itself apart

David Woodhouse: "We're not going to come out with some massive land yacht that evokes the Continentals of the early '70s."

David Woodhouse, Lincoln's new design director, has big dreams for Ford's storied luxury marque.

Woodhouse, 45, who replaced Max Wolff late last year in an unannounced move, has a long resume working for luxury brands such as Rolls-Royce, Cadillac and Land Rover. Wolff remains with Lincoln as head of exterior design, according to Moray Callum, Ford global design chief.

Woodhouse did a prior stint at Lincoln early in the last decade. The native of Worcestershire, England, worked under former Lincoln design chief Gerry McGovern when Lincoln was part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group of luxury brands. Woodhouse spent the last five years directing Ford's Ingeni strategic design studio in London and also spent eight years at Ford's strategic studio in Irvine, Calif.

Woodhouse is an avid gearhead and loves collecting and restoring vintage racecars. He also loves racing them, having won several podium positions at the Goodwood Revival vintage races in England.

Woodhouse talked with Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle about his vision for Lincoln's design future.

Q: Lincoln has had a lot of changes in design direction. What can you do to bring stability?

A: Obviously, we have a lot of ambition for Lincoln without the distractions of PAG. I think you can see it from investments the company is making. We've got a lot to do. We want to bolster and strengthen the team. I was involved in Mini, Rolls-Royce and Range Rover at critical times in the rebirth of those brands. I've lived and worked in the strategic field for a considerable length of time. It's all about setting the right strategy and the right DNA.

Lincoln doesn't have a performance sub-brand like Mercedes-Benz AMG or BMW M. Does that limit what you can do?

I'm not sure performance in such an obvious target for this brand. Whatever we do should be emotional and connect with people in different ways than our competitors. The default mode is sport.

Lincoln has pitched itself as an understated brand for people in search of an alternative to aggressive, macho designs coming from some of the German brands and Cadillac. Is that philosophy working?

I think we have to set ourselves apart. We are a warmer, more inviting, more human brand. That is where we need to be more in the future.

Can you develop proper Lincoln designs using the front-wheel-drive proportions of the Ford vehicles they're derived from?

We're always seeking the best proportions, the best balance of cars. Some of the mechanical architectures are a positive to us. We're leveraging what this organization can provide to Lincoln.

David Woodhouse worked on the Lincoln Concept C, unveiled at the 2009 Detroit show.

What will Max Wolff be doing? Is there any difference between your vision and Max's?

We have a very similar mindset, appreciation and understanding. Max seems to be a happy guy and comfortable. I'm very happy to deal with the longer term, more strategic aspects. He has an important role leading the exterior design team.

How does it feel coming back to Lincoln?

I'm reminded of the potential of the brand. It's a survivor and one of the few iconic American brands. As a designer, you're always looking for opportunities. I think the potential of this brand is just enormous. I think it's a great challenge and a really exciting time.

Historically, Lincoln has been known for presidential limousines and large luxury sedans. How do you translate that into a modern context?

You can't just be tied to what the brand was in the past. You can be informed by it but not driven by it. We have an amazing history of beautiful, elegant and gorgeous [cars]. You have to find some goodness in that you can contemporize and find a connection with. We're not going to come out with some massive land yacht that evokes the Continentals of the early '70s. The brands that are very good at this find the touch points. They find their heritage in a relevance that works.

Any historic Lincolns you admire especially?

The '56 and '57 Continental is just an epic, an icon. I adore that car.

The term "luxury" is used rather loosely. What does it mean for Lincoln?

The future of luxury is about providing surprise. We've got to find points of surprise that will just astound people.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@autonews.com

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