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Design chief says Ford brand will center on toughness

By Amy Wilson
Automotive News / January 04, 2004

Ford Motor Co.'s design chief promises he won't turn Ford Division into the auto industry's hip-hop brand. But J Mays intends to inject an edgier, urban sensibility into vehicle styling.

"Urban is directly related to hip-hop, and hip-hop is the driver here, and I'm talking about P. Diddy, Lil' Kim, Eminem, droopy jeans, bling bling," he says. "It's cool no matter which side of Eight Mile you happen to call home."

Eight Mile Road divides the city of Detroit and its northern suburbs.

Youth culture is pushing urban lifestyle and related products into the suburbs, and the look is becoming more aspirational for people of all ages, Mays says.

For instance, 70 percent of hip-hop customers are white, and a growing number are 30 and older, he says. Those shoppers want to express themselves in more ways than just the music and clothes they buy. "Yes, our cars will become more edgy" as the shift continues, Mays says.

Branding vision

The Ford brand will center on toughness. The angular Ford 427 concept, which debuted at the 2003 Detroit auto show, will influence future styling, especially with its horizontal three-bar grille.

That will become the future face of Ford vehicles, Mays says. The styling will be apparent on the 2006 Ford Futura mid-sized sedan.

The redesigned 2005 Mustang and Bronco SUV concept debuting in Detroit also convey urban toughness, Mays says. He describes the Bronco as "one little bastard of an SUV" that, if produced, would take on the Jeep Wrangler.

Mercury is about guilt-free luxury from a metropolitan point of view. The brand will try to tap into buyers willing to pay 20 percent to 200 percent premiums for well-designed and well-crafted goods from names such as Macintosh, Samsonite and Tiffany & Co., Mays says.

Lincoln's look

For Lincoln, Mays has been inspired by Prada, the designer goods retailer that is moving away from identical stores in all markets to flagship stores that reflect the local cultures of individual cities.

"We want to be careful that we don't dilute the cachet of the Lincoln brand through so much uniformity that it's unrecognizable," Mays says. "Now does that mean that Lincoln deserves a collection of different flagship vehicles? Maybe."

But even then, each Lincoln will reflect three core values: size, speed and sophistication, Mays says.

He wants people to see those characteristics - and an urban sensibility - in two concepts for Detroit: a luxury pickup based on the Ford F-150 and the Mark X two-seat convertible concept based on the Ford Thunderbird. Lincoln's front-end design slowly will evolve to the egg-crate grille on that Mark X concept.

Mays wants the styling to reflect today's environment, which does have some threatening elements.

"It's overt, and it's in your face, and it's a little scary, and it's a little dangerous, Mays says. "It can be at times even a little vulgar. But I think that's sort of the world we live in right now."
 
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