- Published in Q&A.
Engineering effort is driven by CO2 reduction – what’s the preoccupation in design?
“One of the considerations is producing shapes which have good aerodynamics. The four-door Focus has a Cd of 0.274, which for a C-segment vehicle is pretty much class-leading. When we designed these cars we did them all in parallel, and the focus on all of them was to get a shape which was not only visually sleek but also aerodynamically efficient.
Weight saving cuts emissions – how is this influencing design?
“It’s a big thing now – especially in wheels. We’re increasingly encouraged to save weight by relieving alloy wheels on the back surfaces. And we’re going back to what I call mechanical rim sections: the absolute minimum material, rather than having smooth sections. Supercar wheels are like this. They are light, but they look light too. Thinner rims and thinner spokes are one of the things we do to reduce CO2 emissions.
Are the current generation of designers different from yours?
“They’re all super-skilled in software. When I started out everything was drawn by hand and then rendered. The only way you could represent a car realistically was to do a full-size tape drawing and then airbrush them in. Without building a full-size model this was as close as you could get. We still do hand sketches but they’re converted into digital renderings, developed into 3D surface models and then projected full-size onto a 6m powerwall.
Ford has the Aachen research centre for advanced engineering: is there an equivalent facility for design?
“We have what we call the strategic concept group. There’s a centre in London, one in California, and we’re building one in Shanghai. They’re defining what we could do as the next and the next new thing. This group works together with advanced product planning, looking at opportunities we call white space where you look at a product map of sportscars, sedans, MPVs and SUVs searching for gaps – niches where there are viable models that could fit. Then we define these vehicles and test them using 3D digital models at customer clinics. And there’s what we call our futuring team, centred in Cologne. They do a lot of trend research on materials, lighting and technologies in other industries which can filter into our design process. They go not only to all of the auto shows but also the furniture fair in Milan and ISPO in Munich, which is where all of the latest sports gear comes out – that’s been quite influential in developing technical-looking fabrics that we use in the interiors.
Does Aachen bring technologies to you to see what you could do with them?
“My futuring team makes regular visits to find out what technologies are coming up – LED lighting for example. Or the double-axis MacPherson strut in the Focus RS. There, we were able to widen the whole body because it could handle the wider track and still get the power to the road. Suspension technology allowed us to develop a more radical design.
Which tools would speed up the design process?
“Making digital animations as opposed to a digital model which just rotates is quite a time-consuming process – it would be nice to do that quicker. In the future you’ll be able to develop a 3D model, render it and then drive it out of a garage on screen, almost in real time. And CNC milling simplifies a lot of work – you get perfect resin models, but in the future the machines will be faster.
Small cars are big business: what are your ideas here?
“The Start concept was indicative that we’d have 1-litre turbocharged gasoline engines in future. It was also designed to show that Ford is looking specifically at China to see what models will be required as the market develops from the east coast and the cities to the interior – that’s where billions of people are. All of them don’t own a car, so the potential is huge.
What’s the next big challenge in vehicle design?
“Finding out what vehicles developing markets need. Our global vehicles support the market in specific parts of China and India but there’s a huge opportunity to develop the Ford brand by designing down to a price but still appear upscale. The challenge we’re looking at is how you design a car for $8,000 that you’d be really proud to own. There’s a great opportunity to expand in the Asia-Pacific region.