- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ford Motor Co. is determined to put its best design foot forward. “We’re going to promote design as a differentiator,” says British-born Peter Horbury, executive director of design for the Americas. “We’re moving away from manufacturing-inspired vehicles to design-inspired ones.” That’s in line with the goal of making the Ford brand a design leader.

James Padilla, president and chief operating officer, rejects criticism that some of Ford’s recent vehicles in the U.S. and abroad are boring. But he recruited several noted designers who recently joined Ford. One of the most important of these individuals is Mr. Horbury.

Speaking to the International Motor Press Association recently, Mr. Horbury said design must also be affordable. “You have to consider manufacturing and cost,” he says. He points to the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr as examples of this type of design. “We got collaboration from manufacturing and engineering to do them,” Mr. Horbury says.

His strategic design department works hand in hand with engineering and manufacturing to optimize proportions and the safety of all Ford’s North American brands — and the models they produce. Mr. Horbury also promises that Ford, Mercury and Lincoln won’t be me-too designs anymore. Ford’s vice president of design, J Mays, has derided Mercury as “a Ford with a hunk of chrome hung on it.” Mr. Horbury forcefully predicts that Mercury will overcome its difficulty finding differentiation from Ford models. Mercury will focus on contemporary living, with an emphasis on simple, clean lines — pure design, Mr. Horbury says.

He indicates that forthcoming Mercury models will not resemble the cars purchased by your grandparents. “We will use lighter woods and brushed chrome interiors to help achieve this,” Mr. Horbury says.

“Too many car companies have missed this,” Mr. Horbury says. “People used to inherit their grandparents’ furniture,” Mr. Horbury says. Today they want to buy their own contemporary design furniture. “They don’t want grandma’s style,” the designer says. The Mercury Milan is a sign of such change. “My goal is to recognize what American style is: bold, brash and optimistic,” he says.

Ford Fusion makes that type of strong American statement, Mr. Horbury says. The fact that he is an Englishman who has spent many years designing cars in foreign countries doesn’t bother Mr. Horbury. “Coming to the U.S., I can see that Americans have become blind to these things,” he says.

Now he is intent on doing the same for Ford. He insists the Fusion makes a stronger (American) statement than the Ford Five Hundred. “We were being too German in designing the Five Hundred,” Mr. Horbury says. Ford’s design goal of being more American should be to take its cues from pickups, he says. “Trucks have been more American than anything else.”

“Ford has to make a stronger, bolder statement with its cars,” Mr. Horbury says. “There’s no such thing as a quiet American, and we will use our national identity in our products. There are people out there who will not buy American, but there are even more people who will only buy American.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean traditional American designs. “There’s a big market out there for the modern,” he says. “That’s an opportunity for American designers.” The Ford designer says that also applies to minivans. “There will be no more me-too minivans,” Mr. Horbury promises. “We may have gone wrong in trying to be all things to all people.” He says Ford’s new minivans will incorporate ideas generated by customer demands.

Mr. Horbury was Volvo’s chief designer in 1991 and ushered in a modern new look to Volvos, while retaining the “Swedishness” of the brand.

“It takes the eyes of an outsider to see it,” he says. During his tenure as head of Volvo’s design department, he created a virtual design renaissance for that brand.

Being English didn’t stop him from designing new generations of Volvos that retained their Swedish character, while undergoing radical new styling. Starting with the environmental concept car in 1992, Volvo introduced curves and panache. Mr. Horbury built on this new direction with the design of the S40 and V50 in 1997. Two years later, he produced the S80 that gave Volvo a contemporary look that differed from the solid, boxy designs the brand was noted for.

“It costs no more to create a beautiful car than to create a mediocre car,” Mr. Horbury says.



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