Privately, some of Ford's competitors will admit that it has the best looking – and most visually coherent – product lineup in Europe. Incorporating dynamic, slashing lines, wide stances and an aggressive nose-down look, every element of Ford design in Europe is meant to convey one thing: A sense of motion even at rest.
Called kinetic design, the concept has transformed Ford's European lineup and won plaudits for its creator and executor, 60-year-old executive director of design Martin Smith. Arriving at Ford of Europe from General Motors's German subsidiary Opel in 2004, Smith immediately set out to try to breathe some life into the moribund Ford brand.
His answer: kinetics, the study of motion.
“(Kinetic design) is composed of several key visual elements,” Smith said in an interview with Automotive News Europe. “You have dynamic lines and full positive surfaces resulting in a muscular shape. The rising belt line is another strong element, as is a V-shaped rear window.”
The first production Ford to incorporate elements of the new design language was the 2006 S-Max, which showed that a large minivan could be sexy as well as practical. But the new philosophy didn't freeze in place with the S-Max. Every car that has followed – the Mondeo, Kuga, Ka, Fiesta, Focus – has been penned within a continually evolving design framework.
‘Compelling and dramatic'
“Kinetic design is an ongoing strategy that we intend to develop for all future Fords,” Smith said. “Each new model will have a more compelling and dramatic exterior and interior.”
A native of Sheffield, England, Smith started his career at Porsche in 1973. He worked at Audi from 1977 to 1997 and then went to Opel, where he was appointed design chief in 2002. After starting at Ford in August 2004, he began work on the Iosis concept car, which would become the frame for his new design philosophy and serve as an outline for the new-generation Mondeo that arrived in 2007.
At the time, Ford lacked a common visual identity between its products. Kinetic design seemed to work well on large vehicles such as the S-Max, Mondeo mid-sized range or Kuga medium crossover, but in 2004-2005 its adaptability for such small vehicles as the Fiesta subcompact and Ka minicar was by no means a given.
Any concerns have since been proved groundless.
“Kinetic design principles are flexible,” Smith says. “Applied to smaller vehicles, they offer even more opportunities for expression and excitement.”
Smith says he is especially proud of the Ka minicar, which debuted in September 2008. Despite sharing its entire underpinnings with the Fiat 500, Smith says the Ka truly interprets Ford's new design philosophy. During development, he recounts, he referred to the new car as the “Kinetic Ka.”
Smith previously was named the ANE Design Eurostar in 2006, when kinetic design was in its promising infancy. He ability to continue to evolve Ford of Europe's winning design language earned him another design Eurostar in 2010.