Anthony Lo said EVs give designers more flexibility and freedom to craft roomier interiors, which are taking on a greater importance as automakers focus on connected and digital experiences.
DETROIT — Anthony Lo, hired last year as Ford Motor Co.'s chief design officer, plans to showcase more concept vehicles as electrification of the automaker's lineup presents what he calls a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to rethink how a vehicle should look."
The approach is a familiar one for Lo, 57, who spent the past decade at Renault, where he helped implement the company's "cycle of life" design strategy that resulted in a number of award-winning concepts.
"A concept car is not just simply a sculpture," he told Automotive News. "It's a platform for us to test experiences and think, ultimately, how the brand design language should evolve."
The public will get its first glimpse of Lo's vision April 20, when Ford plans to release an electric vehicle concept for its Lincoln luxury brand. The company on Monday shared a teaser image, calling the global concept "inspiration for our fully electric Lincoln vehicles coming in the near future."
While Lo did not discuss the Lincoln concept specifically, he said introducing more concepts than Ford had been doing can help generate excitement from customers.
"This is the best way to understand whether this new direction we've decided to take is acceptable and if people will fall in love with them," he said.
Since taking over for Moray Callum last year, Lo has traveled to most of Ford's global design studios and tried to meet as many of his new co-workers in person as possible. He said he quickly realized the strength of Ford's current portfolio after driving others such as the F-150 and was pleasantly surprised by the looks he got from other drivers while driving a Bronco shortly after it went on sale.
"There's so much love; I can see it," he said. "The biggest challenge for me is how can we take these nameplates forward in the electric generation?"
Lo said EVs give designers more flexibility and freedom to craft roomier interiors, which are taking on a greater importance as automakers focus on connected and digital experiences.
"In the past, exterior design would always take the lead; it's part of what attracts you to the showroom," he said. "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. The design process is turning upside down."
He said his teams now start off by thinking about who the customers are and designing an interior experience around their specific needs. Then they think about how the vehicle looks from the outside.
"I think this is a really the main change in our industry," he said. "We'd of course put as much love into the exterior, but it's just that the priority has switched."
Lo, who was born in Hong Kong and attended the Royal College of Art in London, said he knew he wanted to be a designer from a young age, after his father began taking him to car races.
"This is really a dream for me, to be able to lead such a big design team of one of the biggest car companies in the world," he said.
He credits Peter Stevens, former chief designer at Lotus and one of his professors at the Royal College of Art, as one of his mentors and says he draws inspiration from people with whom he is close.
"As designers, you need to always keep an open mind," he said. "I try not to focus only within the automotive world. Everything is interconnected. You need to understand what's going on, for example, in the fashion industry, or with architecture — how cities will be created in the future and how we can integrate that into various systems."
Lo splits his time now between Detroit and Paris, where his family still lives. His garage houses a Mustang Mach-E and a Mustang Mach 1, which he uses on the long commute to Ford's design studio in Cologne, Germany.
Lo said he'll oversee the Ford Blue division for internal combustion vehicles as well as the Ford Model e division for EVs. Designers, he said, won't be pigeonholed into only working on EVs or gasoline-powered vehicles, though they likely won't be asked to work on multiple programs with different powertrains simultaneously.
Lo said he appreciated how the Mach-E was able to honor the Mustang's heritage while moving it into the future but said that same formula may not work on every vehicle line. Still, the company is entering a "really exciting period" from a design perspective, he said.
"We're going to have a lot of opportunity to take our nameplates and try to reinvent them," Lo said. "The nameplates are our equity — very, very precious and valuable, but I think some change is necessary. We're going to do our best to preserve what makes them special and mix that up with the best digital and physical experiences."
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