DETROIT -- Anthony Lo, Ford Motor's new chief design officer, says increasingly connected vehicles are turning traditional design processes "upside down."
Or, more accurately, inside out.
Lo, hired last year from Renault, said his teams now begin by thinking about who the customers are and designing an interior experience around their specific needs. Only after that do they consider how the vehicle should be packaged on the outside.
"In the past, exterior design would always take the lead; it's part of what attracts you to the showroom," Lo told Automotive News. "But because of the amount of features within the vehicle that you can control as a user, the user interface becomes more and more important."
Lo, who is 57 and spent most of his career in Europe and other overseas markets, is tasked with implementing this paradigm shift in a market that has traditionally focused on outside appearance.
"The Detroit 3 have generally not led the industry in interior design," said Karl Brauer, executive automotive analyst with iSeeCars. "But I think it makes sense when you consider the interior's where a lot of the technological change has occurred the last 10 years. Everything's much more smartphone-oriented and touch screen-oriented."
Beyond the technology advances, Lo said designers are increasingly looking inward because of powertrain changes. Electric vehicles typically sit on flat, skateboardlike battery architectures, giving designers more flexibility and freedom to craft roomier interiors and try new ideas.
"I think this is really the main change in our industry," Lo said. "We'd of course put as much love into the exterior, but it's just that the priority has switched."