DEARBORN, MI – A dose of youthful exuberance can go a long way in the world of automotive design, says Ford Motor Co.’s North American design chief.

The upcoming ’10 Ford Taurus sedan is a prime example, having been partially shaped by a group of young designers who weren’t inhibited by strict corporate guidelines.

“They don’t know the reasons why you can’t do something,” Peter Horbury, executive design director-The Americas, tells Ward’s at a recent event here. “The design manager and chief, myself included, will help them get the idea into a producible form.”

One aspect of the corporate world lost on fresh-faced designers is the importance of dollars and cents. Every penny counts, and the bottom line is all-important.

Says Horbury: “Sometimes a young designer will say, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful. Why aren’t we doing that?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, but that costs $50.’”

So instead of spending the extra coin to achieve a look or purpose, Ford tries to “do it smartly” through design, he adds.

Over time, Horbury says, designers learn the Xs and Os of a corporation’s inner workings and realize “a sketch is just a sketch” and not a “means to an end.”

Despite being a seasoned veteran, Horbury says he often turns to young designers at the onset of a product program.

“My way of doing things is to use the inspirations from the younger members of the team, but help them and guide them and coach them into making (their ideas) feasible,” he says. “That’s the essence of a design program – to get a bright idea into production.”

Imre Molnar, dean of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, says the auto industry long has appreciated the energy young designers bring to a vehicle program.

“Increasingly during the last decade auto makers have been very interested in what young people think,” Molnar says, noting industry leaders typically are Baby Boomers hampered by a disconnect from younger consumers.

The most sought-after audience by auto makers is the so-called “Millennial Generation,” the growing population of 14- to 29-year-olds that is expected to represent 38% of the driving population by 2010.

“Boomers are very conscious of the fact the Millennials are a very different kind of tribe,” Molnar says. “They realize it requires a young person’s unencumbered, even naive, view of motorcar aesthetics.”

Not only do young designers bring fresh ideas to the table, they also work cheap, Molnar adds, making them all the more attractive to auto makers as interns or new hires.

Auto makers “aggressively hire the best of any graduating class,” he says. “And if they’re good, they keep them.”

American car companies are particularly adept at luring young designers and leveraging their expertise, whereas European and Japanese auto makers favor seasoned veterans, Molnar says.

Europeans and Japanese are “coming around, but Americans are way ahead of the curve.”

Ford plans to unveil the new ’10 Taurus at this month’s 2009 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

bpope@wardsauto.com