Ford has a new tactic in its quest to break through the compact-SUV domination of the Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Honda CR-V: It’s splitting its entry in this huge-selling segment into two models. Last spring, the Blue Oval unveiled a 2020 Ford Escape that’s more carlike and more softly styled than the outgoing model, while at the same time it will also sell a more rugged looking vehicle you may have heard called the “Baby Bronco.” The former arrives this fall, while the latter arrives early next year, possibly as a 2021 model.
Both the ’20 Escape and the Baby Bronco use the same front-wheel-drive-based unibody architecture. While the new Escape features styling that suggests a tall Ford Focus wagon, the Baby Bronco will be boxier. As an aside, if Ford wants to count both versions as one in its sales race against the top three models—as Nissan does with its Rogue and Rogue Sport—the rugged version will need “Escape” in its name, so it could potentially be called something like “Escape Bronco” or “Bronco Escape,” although other possible names include Adventurer and Bronco Scout.
Andrew Bazinski was the lead of three designers who worked on the three-year program to create the 2020 Ford Escape. We caught up with the motorcycle enthusiast a couple of weeks ahead of his 30th birthday, and we were encouraged to learn he’s perhaps more interested in cars than trucks.
Automobile Magazine: What kind of bikes do you ride?
AB: I have two bikes; they’re both BMWs. One’s a ’92 R100R, and then a 1980 R100.
How does that influence your design aesthetic, if at all?
When I bought these bikes, they’re all full of fairings, and they’re over-body, and what I’m working on now is, like, tearing one down to a naked bike, its bare essentials and really having a pure, clean, streamlined look, so that’s what influenced, kind of, the new Escape. It’s having that pure shape and the streamlined look. That’s the connection here.
How does that manifest itself in the Escape’s design?
We wanted to take it in two different directions, so the Escape is the more sporty, carlike version, and then we have a separate, more rugged, off-road version.
The Baby Bronco.
We didn’t want to lose that customer, right?
Would you say the new Escape is better described as a pure crossover? Would you go that far?
No, I think it’s still an SUV, but it’s smaller. It’s lower and wider [compared with the outgoing Ford Escape]. If you look at that silhouette, it’s really quite swept back.
How much of the new Focus, which is not going to be sold here, did you start with?
We took inspiration from it. If you look at the bodywork, and how everything kind of flows, it has a lot of sweep to it and all of the surfaces are kind of flush. From the A-pillar back, we wanted to create a little bit of the Coke bottle shape inspired from [Porsche] 911s, and it has that nice voluptuous shoulder that comes down. It has this diving soft shoulder and then it has a light-catcher that comes around the body cladding. We want to create this fullness, so that it didn’t look like it was carved away, and we want to go toward more full surfaces, with maybe sharper technical details.
Does this model converge with the global Kuga?
We had research in all these different places. We did L.A., I think they did London and Milan, and then in Shanghai, and found that different customers liked the appearance of different faces. So that’s why the European one looks—it’s the ST, so it’s obviously kind of more aggressive. And the Asia-Pacific version has this really large mouth and headlights more integrated into the grille, and it’s just what we’ve found that the customers liked.
Basically, everything forward of the A-pillar? Mostly the face?
Yeah, I think it’s the face and a little bit of the rear. They held the body sides.
How was the process?
It’s my second program at Ford.
What was your first?
The Transit Connect facelift.
The Escape redesign is quite a move up.
I did that facelift and they said, ‘Well, let’s give him something a little bit more.’ The directors were looking for something a little bit different, and we plastered the wall full of different sketches. The director at the time came in and pointed to one of my sketches and he said, ‘That’s the one. Do it.’ The next hour we just went to the full-size clay, taped up the design and then started hacking into it. And then it was born from that.
Describe the evolution from that initial drawing.
The one I started with was more aggressive than the production model ended up being. Still carlike, but much more sporty and aggressive.
You already knew that you were going to split off into two models, and that there’d be another one coming along that would fill the rugged off-road market?
No one told us. We didn’t know that was coming. We were just focusing on doing this sporty version of it. And then as that theme progressed, we had internal reviews and market research and we actually ended up toning down a little bit of the aggressiveness and making it a little more harmonious with the rest of the design. The front end, the face, had some sharper angles, but then when we looked at it with the rest of the body, it really didn’t make sense. It was a small tweak at this lower chin across the bottom. It used to be split into two fins; we connected it and made that surface come all the way to where the fog lights are, so that change brought everything together.
Despite the connection to what you’re doing with your Beemers, it’s very much a different customer. You’re basically talking about a young family’s family car, right? So how did you get into that mindset?
I thought, would I drive it? Because I’m kind of the current customer. Late 20s, living in the city kind of thing. That’s where they wanted to go. The outgoing Escape tried to hit all the bases with one vehicle. They tried to get a little bit of the rugged look, a little bit of the family kind of sleekness, and then going forward splitting it into two distinct vehicles I think it’s going to capture more [consumers].
The outgoing Escape had more of a family resemblance to other Ford SUVs.
It’s really a spectrum. On the one side you have the Focus—and you could even say the GT—way, way over here on the car side, and then you have the F-150 and F-250, which are just boxes. And then it’s a sliding scale. The Explorer is almost somewhere in the middle. Escape is leaning toward the carlike part of the family. Bronco will end up being more on the other side. There’s a clearer path you can see going forward.
What’s your background before Transit Connect?
I went to CCS [College for Creative Studies in Detroit]. I graduated from there in 2011 and then ended up working in Austria at a design consultancy. We were doing tractors, heavy trucks for VW, wheels for Porsche—you name it, we did it. Seatbelt concepts for Volvo that came out a few years ago. It was a great, great learning space because I got to do everything. After that, I was working at Audi in Germany doing interior design. Didn’t really like it. Wasn’t my kind of speed and ended up coming to Ford. My dad’s been an engineer here for almost 25 years.
Will customers turn away from SUVs and back to cars again at some point? What do you think is happening?
Yeah, I think so. Because there’s obviously still people who want a more carlike vehicle to buy. They don’t like this whole SUV phase we’re going through. I think here we’re just trying to do something different. People see cars, and they’re just, like, it’s boring. I personally like the four-door sedan that’s got a ton of power. I wish car companies could bring back wagons. I wish there were more wagons here. That might be a designer thing.
Photo of Andrew Bazinski by Dan Murray