DETROIT – The new ‘10 Taurus is a “big improvement” over the outgoing model, which has suffered poor sales since its launch as the Five Hundred in 2005, says Ford Motor Co.’s design chief.

“I’ve taken my knocks on the current car for three long, long years,” J Mays, group vice president and chief creative officer, tells Ward’s at the North American International Auto Show here. “And I was hell bent (the ‘10 Taurus) was going to have design leadership.”

Mays says the current Taurus is too conservative, likening the vehicle to a beautifully tailored Brooks Brothers suit.

“There is nothing wrong with a Brooks Brothers suit, but we wanted something more stylish than that with the new vehicle.”

Mays says the original Taurus, launched in 1986, did not inspire the design of the new sedan, noting the former was a “family” car while the latter is a “hedonistic, driver-oriented” vehicle.

Although there is fierce competition in the D-segment, where the new Taurus resides, Mays is confident the car has the right combination of looks and performance to take on all comers.

“I think it’s going to stack up brilliantly,” he says. “I think we’ve got a really adventurous, dynamic exterior design that sits well on the road and is sporty and courageous for its segment.”

Mays vows Ford intends to stay away from the “me-too” designs that it has offered in the past.

“The thing I’m insisting on with every new product we design is polarization,” he says. “I don’t want any more middle-of-the-road products.”

Ford’s design team has benefited since CEO Alan Mulally joined the company and implemented his “One-Ford” strategy, which calls on the auto maker to leverage its global assets, Mays says.

“Globalization is driving a friendly competition that is improving designs on both sides of the Atlantic,” he says, noting he routinely transfers designers to different regions of the world in order to give them fresh perspectives.

“What we’re looking for is the best designs in the world, and we don’t care where they come from,” Mays says, adding there will always be a place for localized products that can only be sold in certain markets.

“The Ford Mustang is the perfect example of a localized product.”

bpope@wardsauto.com