"It's like finding a polished pebble on the beach." Freeman Thomas, Ford's Director of Strategic Design, explains the design philosophy behind the handsome Ford Start Concept at AutoChina 2010 in Beijing. Designed in California, it was inspired by the 1960 Alfa SZ Zagato and the 1956 Porsche Speedster.
“We wanted to create a car that was light, fun, and could be used every day. But we also wanted to create a car where the design elements were like an onion. Where you start slicing down through it so you start off by looking down the road and you say, I don’t know why, but I love this concept, this shape. It’s like finding a polished pebble on the beach. You’re just attracted to it; you want to pick it up. But once you pick it up, you want to discover it; you want to take a journey with this little pebble.
“This car has amazing visibility because we created an aluminum roof structure over a lower structure that is a high-strength steel monocoque. That allows us to control the lines, the height, and also the visibility. Instead of putting a hatch on the back, we put on a trunk, which allows us to have a panoramic back window, with more room in the back.
“We minimized the number of parts, but made each part more endearing. For instance, if you look at the seats, they’re one-piece buckets, but they don’t have sewing in them. They’re actually molded in design. So it reduces the amount of processes but it increases your desire for the seats.
“We had two cars in the studio all the time [when they were designing the Start at Ford’s California studio]. We had a 1960 Alfa SZ Zagato, and we had a 1956 Porsche Speedster. Those two cars reminded us about simplicity, about gorgeous shapes, about endearing-ness, about fun to drive, and also transcending the price, because those cars were actually affordable when they were new, and yet today they’re coveted by collectors at ridiculous prices.
“We chose AutoChina [to introduce the Start] because it’s a global show, and it’s also an opportunity for us to understand more about this huge, growing market. This is the first time we’ve ever introduced a car here. Obviously, we wanted something that appealed to the Chinese, yet we wanted a vehicle that also appealed to a global audience. We see, especially with millenials, that they are global. You know, they’re on the Internet, they’re talking to each other all over the world.
“The Start is on a clean-sheet platform, but dimensionally it’s the size of a shortened Fiesta, so it’s sub-B-segment, but with width and overhangs very similar to the Fiesta.
It’s about the length and width of a Mini, but it’s very different from a Mini.
“It’s also very different from the Fiesta. We created something that we believe is sportier. Its influences and its inspirations come from sports cars, not hatchbacks. I think it transcends age groups. I think that you could be 15 or you could be 50. We wanted to achieve an [upscale look] with every design element. From the grille, the way it works as a venturi coming into the intercoolers. All the side glass opens, so you don’t have the claustrophobic feeling in a 2-door that you would normally have.
“For the instrument panel, we have a new concept called My Ford Mobile. It leverages your smart phone, but it takes it to a new level. You are used to your own phone and your own apps, so whatever is on your phone is repeated on the screen. And when the car’s in Park, I can access all of my apps, including texting, internet, and everything else. But as soon as I start the engine or I go into Drive, it only allows Ford-approved apps. Which means that we’ve gone through a process that says, those are safe to use while you’re driving. And the reason that you dock the phone is because it makes it so you can’t use the phone to text while you drive. So if you let your 16-year-old drive the car, you would feel secure, in that there’s a certain level of control over connectivity in the car.
“It just has a small little trunk compartment. But that allows this panoramic back glass, amazing visibility, and you don’t have the extra structure [of a hatch] that adds weight, so it simplifies the whole car. The B-pillars are floating, so we keep the structure. We repeat that seat stripes in the roof, which is a single-piece modular cassette, which allows us to manufacture that. And if you look through the roof structure, you’ll see the extruded aluminum castings and so forth with air bag curtains going through it. [This allows for] lighter weight up top. Then, of course, if I turn the engine on, see how the screen changes? So if I take the phone out, [the screen] allows me still to access all my car functions like HVAC. You know how to use that; we don’t want to re-teach you how to use it. So if you rented this car, all you do is pop in your phone.
“[We’re asking] how simple can we make the car? And how much aspiration and premium-ness can we make while making it simpler? And the Start is also about size. You know, can we make a car down to a sweet spot in size and say, gosh, that’s a size I’d love to have. I would drive it every day. I would have fun driving it. It’s lightweight, it’s super fuel-efficient, it’s super green, even the whole undertray….if you look underneath you’ll see the whole undertray is sculpted. It’s the next frontier for aerodynamics. [We want to] leverage every opportunity to make the car as efficient but as endearing and as aspirational we can. That’s really a Ford trademark that created the Ford Mustang and other great icons.
“China is a major, major market for us that we want to [continue developing], and doing it without cookie cutter products, and doing it with products that maybe carve their own niches is, I think the way to go.”