NEW YORK –design chief J Mays says the automaker’s decision to rebuild its Lincoln brand and make it more competitive in the luxury segment prompted his move back to Michigan earlier this year.
Mays,group vice president-design, ran the automaker’s global design operations for seven years from a studio in London until his return to Dearborn. London was in a better time zone for him to stay in touch with his Asian studios.
“But as we decided to spend more time to work on Lincoln, it's better for me to sit in Dearborn,” he tells WardsAuto in an interview here.
“Lincoln is a storied luxury brand,” Mays says, declaring his goal is to restore it to its design glory years. He is not definite on how long that process might take, but he's confident the MKZ sedan is the first in a series of new models that will strengthen the marque. “These things take time,” he admits.
The project began about 18 months ago when Mays hired Max Wolff from Cadillac to become design director for the Lincoln team. The design division is housed in Ford's product-development offices in Dearborn. An exclusive Lincoln design studio also was created there.
“The luxury business is really an aspirational business,” Mays says. “We handpick people (for the Lincoln team) who really get that.”
Mays has almost 1,000 people in 11 studios scattered around the globe working in Ford design. “We try to open studios where we can attract creative talent,” he says. Most of that talent is recruited from the coasts in the U.S. Mays connects weekly over the Internet with each of the studios to keep abreast of their projects.
The studios in Shanghai, London and Melbourne are focused on long-range projects that will result in the next generation of Ford vehicles. “They do a lot of scenario planning five to seven years out,” he says. “They're giving us a lot of foundation of where we want to go.”
The Shanghai operation, headed by Chelsea Lau, is a digital design studio exclusively. The London studio also is devoted to strategic planning. Melbourne is a vital part of his design empire, Mays says, and will remain in the Ford design network even after the automaker ends manufacturing Down Under.
“We've got a lot of work going on in Melbourne now,” he says. The Australian studio most recently contributed to the EcoSport compact CUV that was designed for South America as well as India and other parts of Asia.
Mays says he's a firm believer in having more than one studio work on projects simultaneously. “You always get a better design if you get input from multiple designers,” he says. “Nothing gets the creative juices flowing (better) than if someone is going to show them up.”
The Ford Fusion is a product of the global design team, Mays notes. It was engineered and developed in Dearborn, but the design competition made it a more complete and highly detailed automobile with an international look. Studios in Cologne, Germany, and Melbourne had input on the vehicle, which is sold as the Ford Mondeo in some markets.
Because the F-150 pickup not only is Ford's best-selling product but also the industry's, much attention is focused on that model. Mays is confident the current F-150 will compete strongly against’ new-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra big pickups.
The arrival of the new GM trucks hasn't prompted a last-minute flurry of changes in the design of the new F-150 that's due out next year. “We feel very confident about the next-generation F-150,” he says. “We're in a leadership position.” He notes the F-150 has been the industry's sales leader for 31 years and is selling about 60,000 units per month.
“If all the F-150s sold this year were lined up bumper to bumper, they would stretch from Los Angeles to Memphis,” he says. “Even with today's model we feel we have a very tough truck.”
The Oklahoma native says Ford has a good understanding of its truck customers. “We're good listeners,” he says of his truck-design team. “Those guys know how to build a truck.”
Mays brushes aside the idea that Ford should have a design studio for the F-150 in Texas, the biggest truck market in the U.S. “It would be too hard to attract creative talent there,” he says.
No specific location sets the tone for design in today’s auto industry, according to Mays. He attributes that to the Internet, which gives immediate access to customers who are online and give an immediate thumbs-up or thumbs-down to products. “In any given moment, customers know what the best design is,” he says.