Since taking over as Lincoln's design director nearly three years ago, David Woodhouse has launched a design language signified by a unique grille look and classic proportions. He also is overseeing an overhaul of the brand's portfolio.
Woodhouse, now 48, who joined Ford Motor Co. in 1999 after design jobs at BMW Group, Cadillac and Jaguar Land Rover, emphasizes Lincoln's position as a separate and independent company within Ford. He spoke with Automotive News correspondent Jens Meiners.
Q: How goes Lincoln's new design strategy?
A: Let me start by saying how Lincoln is doing nearly five years after re-establishing itself in the luxury market. We made a series of promises at the start and continue to validate our strategy with encouraging progress: four new models in four years, greater name recognition and sales for the brand, establishing a foothold in China as the fastest growing luxury brand and the launch of Black Label.
Lincoln's design is playing a huge role in our advancements. The strategy is rooted in four words that help to separate us from a competitive luxury pack: Beauty, gliding, human and sanctuary -- this is quiet luxury. We are built on a foundation of beautiful products and meaningful client experiences.
Will the sloping shoulder line, upward kink and dropping rear end of the Continental become signature elements of Lincoln?
The elements you mention I see as Continental signatures, especially the falling line to a separated rear haunch. The most important aspects that will influence other Lincolns are great proportions, upper scale relaxed confidence and elegant beauty. One aspect important to convey confident beauty is what I call the "in-flight gesture," namely that the car sits well over its rear wheels in a level or falling attitude to the rear. This is something evident in MKZ and Continental and something I am definitely keen to build upon.
How close is the Navigator Concept to the real thing?
The Navigator Concept is a significant indication to what our next Navigator will be. Gull-wing doors and concertina steps -- perhaps not.
You have some powerful engines in the lineup. Is sportiness a strong factor in Lincoln design?
Effortless performance is part of our Lincoln mantra relating to "quiet luxury." Some have chosen to chase the European luxury manufacturers, but there is a cold, machine-like quality with that path. By contrast, Lincoln is about warm, inviting comforts, amenities and intuitive effortlessness. Our customers want the performance, but it's not the only factor in choosing a luxury automaker. That's why a Continental will have 400-hp available but with so many other attributes. Our clients get a full experience.
What makes Lincoln specifically American?
Lincoln, like the most credible luxury brands, has a definitive and iconic heritage. My favorite quote from someone who owned and loved his Lincoln is Frank Lloyd Wright when he proclaimed the 40s Continental to be "the most beautiful car in the world." Our design language is about exuberant proportions; horizontal emphasis; clean, restrained execution; long flowing lines, harmony and balance. It is these very ingredients that I believe are American. We've studied past products and the competition, analyzing the vehicles that have the most elegant ratios. This influences how we design today, and what we'll be doing in the future.
Do tastes in China and the U.S. differ, and if so is this reflected in Lincoln design?
Clearly, the back seat is a big area of focus for the Chinese customer; but that's not exclusively what they want. More younger clients there want to drive. The image of Lincoln has remained in their minds as the vehicle of presidents and the Hollywood elite. Now we are there, as well as here in North America, with vehicles that fit the modern-day execution of that idea.
You have toyed with the idea of a coupe. Are you re-evaluating new segments?
As you know, we cannot discuss future product. However, the creativity just exhibited by our Navigator Concept, on the heels of announcing the production version of the Continental, is certainly proof we have a deep and thriving well of creativity in the Lincoln studio.
What is the level of Lincoln's integration in the Ford design world when it comes to sharing studios, modeling, etc.?
We have a 100 percent-dedicated Lincoln design studio; it's home to nearly 100 staff members all dedicated to Lincoln with a great mix of creatives: interior, exterior and color and material designers, sculptors, engineers, modelers and program managers. Each of them shares one passion: for beautiful designs.