Moray Callum has held Ford's top global design job for a year. The easygoing Scotsman's philosophy is a lot like that of Ford CEO Mark Fields: He wants to build on the One Ford global product plan created under former CEO Alan Mulally, who retired last summer.
Callum sees his task as fine-tuning a design team and concepts built during the long tenure of his predecessor, J Mays. He's out to refine the Ford brand's global design language and build a luxury identity for Lincoln.
Callum is coming off a frenetic year when Ford introduced a bevy of crucial products including the global 2015 Mustang and aluminum 2015 F-150 pickup, both generally well-received by critics.
In May, he appointed Joel Piaskowski to replace the influential Martin Smith as head of Ford of Europe's design team on July 1. Smith was to work on a project studying Ford's future design until his retirement at year end.
Callum, 56, knows Ford can't rest on its laurels. He's preoccupied with the increasing influence of technology on design and the rapidly shifting design landscape.
"You want to say 'I've done a nice job,'" he says. "But you don't have time for that. You need to continually move forward."
Callum spoke in December with Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle.
Q: Ford has had a nice run rolling out a global design language that began with the kinetic design theme. What's next?
A: You've probably heard [Ford CEO Mark Fields] speak. We're not changing the plan. It's quite important with design. As we move forward, we need to take all the good things we've got and evolve them. That's what's historically happened in Ford design. The challenge is to keep the momentum going but keep pointing in the same direction.
Does kinetic design remain the guidepost?
What kinetic design stood for is a continuum -- getting design that's continuously exciting.
Martin Smith, Ford's longtime European design chief, led the team that developed the kinetic design concept. What happens now that Martin is retiring?
We've got a lot to thank Martin for. He was instrumental in lighting that spark of creativity in kinetic design. If there's a legacy with Martin, it's keeping that flame alive. The guy at the top has changed, but the same guys are still there.
Design has become a more critical differentiator in the way customers choose vehicles.
A couple of things are happening. People have cottoned on to how design can help build a brand. Some brands were known for being pretty bland and design-neutered. Now you look at the Toyotas of the world, and they're doing more dramatic design. You can see competition getting bigger and bigger.
But you can't just throw design at things. You need to be aware of how you use it in a consistent way and an evolved way and how you apply it to the brand.
Automakers with luxury vehicles that have been derived from mass-market platforms sometimes seem to have volume and luxury vehicles with similar looks. Nissan-Infiniti and Toyota-Lexus are examples. Ford and Lincoln have been criticized for looking too much alike. Now Ford Motor Co. is moving away from that.
I don't think there should be a visual connection between Lincoln and Ford. With some of the other companies it looks like the designs are coming out of the same studios. That's why we have a separate Lincoln studio, so there's no cross-pollination.
In the past, we've suffered the other side of that -- having to use the same sheet metal. Thankfully now we're looking at the MKC and the MKZ [which share platforms with the Ford Escape and Ford Fusion]. They're completely separated with no common sheet metal. And it's not just that there is no common sheet metal. There is no common proportion or common stance.
So you're the traffic cop who enforces that separation?
I don't really need to be the traffic cop. It's not something we need to enforce. They want to do it. We went through a phase of badge engineering and too much commonality between the products.
China is the world's largest auto market. Its influence in design is growing. How is Ford changing its design operations to reflect China's growing influence?
We already have a small entity in China. We still have our studio in Melbourne and that's our Asia-Pacific hub from a design standpoint. We all need to learn more about China. It's not just about sending a few Westerners to live there. It's getting Chinese nationals on board.
So far we seem to be doing pretty well in China. The Focus was best-selling car in China [in 2013]. Now we're selling Lincolns in China. It's a brave new world for us, a very exciting market.
Chinese customers are very discerning and demanding in terms of quality and craftsmanship. At the same time their tastes are developing very rapidly as well. We're listening to the Chinese customer just as we're listening to our customers in the rest of the world. China doesn't take the forefront in front of anyone but it's very important. The Ford Escort is a good example of that.
We may have the luxury to do some specific cars for China.
Jim Farley mentioned a China-only version of the Edge that will have three rows of seats and be 16 inches longer than the standard Edge.
That's a good example of tailoring to the market. They like the crossover look but they were really wanting a three-row vehicle.
So you can make local exceptions from the One Ford plan?
You shouldn't be too dogmatic when you talk about One Ford. One Ford was meant to align the brand and get economies of scale, to engineer the Edge for global markets but to tailor the vehicles for local markets. You're getting economies of scale because 95 percent of the engineering is common. It's not major engineering difference. It's more clay on the model, but it's not a different vehicle.
Carmakers seem to be recognizing that emotional design sells. You have been successful with dramatic designs such as the Fusion. Is it easier to get those kinds of designs approved than it was in the past?
The consistent message we're getting back is that design is one of the top two or three differentiators. We know the design needs to be right and needs to be the distinguishing factor for why people walk into a Ford showroom instead of a GM showroom. The good thing is that it's recognized within the company. Very rarely is senior management saying we've pushed it too far. The days of the bean counters holding us back are gone. The bean counters are realizing we're delivering some good beans.
When you launched the Fusion two years ago, it was hailed as a beautiful, dramatic design. But some critics wondered how well the design would hold up over time. How has it done?
It's been vindicated by the response. We're just launching that car in Europe [as the Mondeo]. Fusion has been a spearhead in changing people's attitudes to Ford design. It's two years old and still one of the best looking cars on the road.
How do you follow an act like the Fusion?
Have you gone for a premium look with the Ford brand?
We talked about visual premiumness when we developed our current design language. We're not pretending to be a premium brand, but there's no harm to having a premium feel to the car. Because our cars do good volume, that doesn't mean they need to feel cheap. The premium brands don't have a monopoly on great design.
Carmakers increasingly differentiate themselves using interiors with technology playing a role. How do you meet that challenge?
We've now got a dedicated head of global interiors -- Amko Leenarts. Interiors is one of those new frontiers in terms of what's changing most quickly in cars.
There's a tremendous amount of information coming in we're trying to feed customers. How do you keep the car interesting when you're standing still but not too interesting when you're driving? We have to get the balance right and not put in too much technology for technology's sake. You don't want it to look like a science project. You don't want it to be too threatening. The switches have to be in the right place.
Now that the Mustang is going global, how can it be an ambassador for the Ford brand?
The Ford brand in Europe has always been known as an enthusiasts' brand. That will reiterate that we are a company that builds cars that are fun to drive. In the new parts of the world where Ford is new, that's important to note that Ford is a fun car to drive, not just a practical family car. It's going to be great to see Mustang around the roads of the world. It epitomizes a lot about what Ford does well. It puts smiles on people's faces at prices they can afford.
Are any nonautomotive products influencing Ford design?
Something like the Nest thermostat. The machine will learn what the customer wants. We're really trying to learn more about this brave new world of user interface and information sharing.