FRANKFURT -- Conceding that its cars and trucks have been too conservatively styled, Ford Motor Co. executives promise more dramatically emotional designs in future vehicles.
No more will the Ford development system insist on certain rules for packaging or technology - if those rules result in bland exterior designs such as the Ford Five Hundred sedan or Freestar minivan.
Ford President Jim Padilla and J Mays, group vice president for design and chief creative officer, said in an interview here that Ford has liberated its designers from some demands that have poured cold water on creative expression.
In his eight years as Ford's design chief, Mays, 50, has been a visible and controversial figure. The Mays years have produced a few design hits such as the current Mustang but have been characterized more by serviceable, conservative cars and trucks.
From now on, said Mays, "With each individual car that comes out, my job is to push each design director to turn up the volume."
To do that, Ford will make a different set of compromises.
Ford minivan sales continue to plunge, despite the introduction of the all-new Freestar in 2003. The trouble is the Freestar looks a lot like the Windstar model it replaced.
"That was probably the most poignant lesson that the company could have learned," Mays said. "There was enormous investment, and no one could tell the difference."
In a mid-cycle re-engineering of a vehicle, "the money used to go where you didn't see it. It now goes where you see it, and a lot of that has to do with the management team at the highest level rejiggering or reordering the hierarchy of what is important in product development."
Padilla praised Mays as "a talent magnet" for the team of chief designers for Ford's various brands around the world.
Added Mays: "Padilla is saying, 'Design leadership is our goal, and I want it there.' It is equal to quality. It is equal to anything else we do because it is going to improve people's quality if we produce an incredible design. Bill (Chairman Bill Ford) is saying it."
At the Frankfurt auto show, Ford Motor emphasized the Iosis concept car, a muscular design with big fender flares and dramatic lines. Mays and Padilla said it presages future "kinetic" designs in cars at Ford of Europe, matching what Ford contends is their superior driving dynamics.
In America, Ford-brand vehicles -both cars and trucks - will visually display "tough," Mays said.
Same sheet metal
The market shortcoming of Ford's previous hierarchy of values is shown in vehicles such as the Five Hundred, Freestar, and even the 2006 Ford Explorer.
NEXT WEEK IN AUTOMOTIVE NEWS: J Mays assesses (and criticizes) his performance as Ford's design chief.
Spy photos of the re-engineered 2007 Ford Super Duty pickup also depict a minimal emphasis on styling.
Mays called the 2006 Explorer "probably one of the last" product programs under the old set of values.
Mays said the new Ford Fusion, a Mazda6-derived sedan designed to compete with the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, is more in line with Ford's future: "distinctive without polarizing."
While Padilla and Mays suggest a clear design direction for the Ford brand, much work remains to be done.
Said Padilla: "I think one of the biggest challenges we have now is: What is Lincoln?"
You may e-mail Rick Kranz at [email protected]
You may e-mail Peter Brown at [email protected]