Susan Lampinen, Ford's group chief designer for color and material design, keeps a keen eye on trends in fashion, art and design.
Her responsibilities cover vehicles from Fiesta subcompacts to F-series pickups and Lincolns.
Lampinen, a graduate of what is now the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, joined Ford in 1999 as a senior color and trim designer after working with Mercedes-Benz. In her spare time, she's a metal sculptor, an adventurous cook who specializes in Asian fusion, an avid traveler and an advocate for animal welfare.
Lampinen recently spoke with Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle.
Q: How did you get interested in color and trim?
A: I started doing exterior design work. Then I did interior design work. For me as a designer with a female perspective, I see these forms and say, "Now you have to clothe it. You have to put material on these forms." I was dabbling in it a little bit and realized it felt really comfortable and natural.
Where do you look outside the auto industry for inspiration?
As a designer, no matter whether you're doing color and trim or interior and exterior design, as a designer, we're kind of on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether we're looking at a magazine or a billboard or if we're at somebody's home and there's a unique wooden dinner table. Fashion is definitely one of the things we look at. We look at architecture. There are different trends in the world -- Gaudi in Barcelona or classic pied-a-terre in France. We look at product design. We look at what's going on with washing machines, coffee makers, tools. We also look at lifestyle and social media.
Why do certain colors suit certain cars and others do not?
A perfect example would be pink, magenta or raspberry. I don't think our F-150 customers would have an appetite for that, but our Fiesta customers would.
You say color is back in fashion after several years of silvers and gray dominance. What's popular these days?
A couple of years ago, we were seeing silver as the most popular color nationally and internationally. Now it's white. For the exterior, we still see the core colors in reds and blues doing well. We also see other color spaces. We're seeing purples and greens and coppers and golds. Now we're seeing tinted oranges and tinted light silver. People are not afraid to buy color. We have this new F-150 special package with this beautiful blue on the interior. And we're also seeing the trend not just in automotive, but in consumer products. Years ago, Apple had just white. Now you're seeing different colors and cases. You're seeing it with Whirlpool. You can get red washing machines.
When the Fiesta went on sale in the United States in 2010, there was a distinctive chartreuse color, Lime Squeeze. Do you have other signature colors for certain vehicles?
Ice Storm -- which is across all our alternate powertrain vehicles -- that was the signature color we decided to go global with. We had people who said, "My god, that's awful." We also get customers who love that color. We get a lot of input.
You're making more use of recyclable fabrics?
There is a minimum 25 percent recycled renewable yarns in all of our fabrics. We've been doing that for years and we're upping that content. Globally Ford uses 41 fabrics with recycled content across 15 vehicle programs. With the 2014 Fusion, we're the first automaker to use fabrics that can be recycled around the world. We were at zero recyclability in 2007.
Is Ford's senior management allowing you to be adventurous with color and materials these days?
There's a strategy and a willingness to support and understand that color really does sell a car. We know a customer will walk away from a brand if they can't get the right colors. Our senior management has been very supportive to allow us to have that design leadership and creative freedom. You don't see silly colors. We're going to be very intentional and strategic with colors.