Anthony Prozzi, interior design manager for the upcoming Ford Flex cross/utility vehicle, drew upon his years of experience in the fashion industry, including a stint with DKNY (Donna Karan New York), to craft an interior that is elegant yet functional.

While the Flex will maintain the brand's traditional trim designations — SE, SEL and Limited — when it debuts this summer, Prozzi and his team intentionally have blurred the interior distinction between low-end and higher-price models.

“We wanted to break perceptions of what is entry level and what is luxury and reconfigure (the interior) to what kind of personality or mindset you have,” he says. “It shouldn't be about, ‘I only have X amount of dollars.’ It should be, ‘I like this because it talks to what I'm about.’

“Money isn't part of the equation,” Prozzi adds. “The cost to produce good design isn't a factor anymore. You can get great design at any price point.”

For instance, the base Flex SE interior is done in shades of Oxford blue and khaki, while the door panels boast Harris Tweed inserts. Prozzi refers to the theme as “iconic traditionalist,” likening it to classic fashions found at retailers such as Brooks Brothers.

For the higher-end Flex models, he says he “turned up the volume a bit. We rendered the material all black, very tasteful. Think Audrey Hepburn. It has just the right amount of brightwork on the registers.

“It has quilted-leather seating surfaces that nobody else has and mahogany inserts in the door panels that resemble a beautiful roll-top desk. It's a different, fresher approach that appeals to the way people think.”

To ensure quality and comfort, a trio of Ford Motor Co. engineers designed the seats in-house using sophisticated computer-simulation technology. The objective was to create seats that allowed occupants to feel a minimum of vibration and just the right amount of road input.

“We took real-world road surface data and programmed it into our engineering model,” says Qin Pan, project leader for the seat development.

“This allowed us to optimize the design of mass dampers in the seats and counter these predicted road inputs earlier in the development than ever before. So when we get to (the) physical prototype stage, we can concentrate on fine-tuning rather than designing the damping system.”

Ford dubs the new seats “F-Family,” and says variations will appear in a number of future products, including the upcoming '09 F-150 fullsize pickup truck.

The extra care taken in the design of the seats is in line with Prozzi's overall objective for the Flex interior to create an environment that customers will not tire of. “In fact, it should be something you cherish experiencing every day,” he says.

Another objective of Prozzi and his team was to design an interior with a sense of space, because “space is a luxury.” To achieve this, interior surfaces were moved down and away from passengers, rather than “blocky and in your face,” which he says, “make you feel claustrophobic.”

Prozzi also uses a technique of layering various textures to create a sense of safety and security within the vehicle.

“If you look at how inserts are treated on most vehicles, they do it as an afterthought,” he says. “But I created layers. And within those layers, I (inserted) a beautiful piece of wood or metal or fabric.”

To enhance the sense of spaciousness, Ford added its patented Vista Roof, which provides natural light to all three rows in the 7-seat Flex. The roof will be an option on SEL and Limited models.

While the Vista Roof added cost to the Flex program, Prozzi says engineers and product managers understood that it helped make the vehicle unique.

“What made it happen is being able to share your vision,” Prozzi says. “By being able to say to an engineer, ‘You put a lot of skylights in your home to fill it with light. Why not in your car?’ It's worth the expense.”

Prozzi also finagled other design changes from the engineering and product-development team that generally would be deemed unnecessary or too expensive. For example, moving the accessory power outlet from the center console to the passenger footwell, so as not to interrupt the flow of the center stack.

Despite his requests, Prozzi says he stayed within budget. “Any good designer can take what is handed to him and work around it,” he says. “I guarantee you behind the scenes there are a lot of things that went into it (Flex interior) that made it affordable and approachable.”

While most of the interior design cues came from the Prozzi team, focus groups also weighed in on what they look for in a large CUV. Delving into consumers' lifestyles to determine what they want in a vehicle was akin to the type of research conducted by scientists, the chief designer says.

“We were able to glimpse into people's homes and find out how they lived and what things they were sensitive to,” he says. “A great designer has to be part sociologist, psychologist and anthropologist, as well as a great artist.”

With the Flex slated to hit dealerships in the coming months, Prozzi says he is pleased with the end result. “I think a vehicle like (the) Flex talks to not just your journey from point A to point B, but your journey through life.”

Auto Makers Look to Fashion Industry for Interior Design
subscribers.WardsAuto.com/ar/auto_makers_fashion_interior/index.html

Auto Makers Strive to Personalize Interiors
subscribers.WardsAuto.com/ar/makers_personalize_interiors/index.html