Ford announces J Mays will retire Jan. 1 after 16 years as the automaker’s design chief.

The retirement is somewhat unexpected, as Mays just turned 59 on Oct. 15 and over the summer returned to the U.S. to helm a design rebuilding for the Lincoln brand.

Mays will be succeeded by Moray Callum, currently executive director of design-The Americas.

Mays made headlines in late August when he publicly stated it likely would be another decade for Lincoln to become a “true” luxury brand. Ford public relations and other company executives were rumored to have been furious with the comment, as the automaker has denied Lincoln lacks any prestige compared with German and Japanese luxury competitors.

Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields says Mays’ design influence will live on.

“The bold and sophisticated design language that J Mays pioneered will be visible for years to come in Ford vehicles and the auto industry overall,” Fields says in a statement.

Since his 1980 graduation from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, Mays has been one of the most well-known names in the automotive design world.

He began his career in 1980 as an exterior designer for Audi in Germany, did a short stint at BMW’s Munich studio in 1983, then returned to the Volkswagen family in 1984, this time working on both Audi- and VW-brand models.

Mays led or participated in the design process for a number of now-legendary models, including the Audi AVUS concept, which birthed the Audi TT roadster.

In 1989, Mays came to the U.S. as Volkswagen of America’s chief designer and was involved in the creation of the Concept 1, the basis for the New Beetle.

After a stint as a consultant, Mays joined Ford in 1997 as vice president-design before ascending to group vice president-design in 2003. In 2005, Mays added the title of chief creative officer.

The Ford Fairlane, Interceptor, 427, and Shelby GR-1 are some of the concepts for which Mays led development during his 16 years at Ford. Mays also oversaw the design process of the Jaguar F-Type and Lincoln MKZ concepts.

Ford production models which Mays was involved with include the ’05 and ’10 Mustang, ’05 GT, ’10 Taurus and Taurus SHO, ’11 Fiesta, ’12 Focus and ’13 Fusion.

Mays also oversaw the creation of the ’08 Jaguar XF, and first generations of the Aston Martin DB9 and Land Rover LR3.

In an August interview with WardsAuto, Mays spoke of the need to have a variety of studios participating in the design process.

“Nothing gets the creative juices flowing (better) than if someone is going to show up (a designer)”– and that Ford will not be ceding fullsize-truck leadership anytime soon.

“We feel very confident about the next-generation F-150…those guys know how to build a truck,” Mays said of his truck-design team.

Ford also announces the retirements today of Jim Tetreault, vice president-North American manufacturing, and Marty Mulloy, vice president-labor affairs.

Tetreault will be succeeded by Bruce Hettle, currently executive director-global vehicle operations manufacturing engineering, while Bill Dirksen, executive director-U.S. labor affairs, will step into the role vacated by Mulloy.

Ford also announces the election of Steven Armstrong as a company officer and vice president-Ford South America. Armstrong for the past 18 months has been president-Ford Brazil, leading all aspects of the automaker’s largest South American business unit.

bpope@wardsauto.com