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An Interview with J Mays


An Interview with J Mays

Ford's new all-electric Focus and their Chief Creative Officer on thinking globally and making drivers happy

by Evan Orensten
on 07 January 2011
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Ford's revival continues with today's launch of the electric-only Focus at CES—heralding both the latest in Ford's technical innovations and bucking traditional auto show debuts. We got a sneak peak last night of the new model (arriving in showrooms fall 2011) and learned about the advancements in charging that come with it. The new vehicle charges in just over three hours, about twice as fast as the Nissan Leaf, and a smart charging feature allows users to leverage fluctuations in electricity pricing by programming when they want to charge. With the new Focus, an updated version of MyFord Touch includes electric-only features, and a companion mobile app will help monitor the car's status and performance.

These progressive tech developments—reflections of the brand's understanding that people and their technology evolve much more quickly than traditional auto design cycles do—are part of a series of continued enhancements by Ford allowing drivers to control the car and their mobile apps through MyFord Touch and Ford Sync AppLink. (These features are currently available on the 2011 Focus and coming next on the 2012 Mustang, which will also offer voice-activated navigation.)

To learn more about the role of design within Ford's corporate and product evolution we sat down with J Mays, Group Vice President of Global Design and Chief Creative Officer, during the Paris auto show. He shared his thoughts on how the brand is moving forward.

Tell us about designing for a global market.

For years, Americans just didn't buy five-door cars, because they only liked four-doors. And Europeans only like five-doors.

As we started to launch the Fiesta (and we're getting the same feedback on the Focus), it turns out that new four-door, designed primarily for Asia Pacific and the United States, is getting a lot of attention in Europe. Just the opposite is happening in the U.S. We designed a four-door for the American and age-specific market, and suddenly everybody is going, "Yeah, but actually the five-door is really cool and I'd like that." That's a real cultural shift that has to do with a different generation, one that's getting their information off the Internet. Everybody just wants the best design.

We've gone from being seven brands with 360,000 people in the company to two brands essentially—really one brand with a small domestic brand, Lincoln—with about 170,000 people. We're not developing three Focuses anymore, we're developing one.

How does this impact your customers?

You can imagine the amount of money that we save there, It allows you to put more into the car that allows the customer to have surprise and delight.

How has this shift affected your job?

I used to describe my job as an inch deep and a mile wide because I'd just go around and sort of sprinkle fairy dust on stuff and never have time to really delve into it. Now that everybody is focusing on Ford globally, it allows me to be an inch wide and a mile deep.

What does this mean for Ford's many regional design centers?

We're not Ford of Europe design anymore. We're not Ford U.S. design. We're just Ford global design because—this sounds a bit stupid—but we're a small enough company that we can get away with that now.

How has technology facilitated that global design process?

Read more of the interview after the jump.

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