PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Ford Motor Co. might be having big problems these days with product recalls and belt-tightening layoffs, but that isn't stopping the top guys from looking to the future.
Product is king in the auto industry, and hot new models when fortunes are otherwise faltering have helped many an auto maker out of a slump.
J Mays, Ford's vice president for design, told reporters at a recent news conference that the company "intends to have more than the Mustang, more than the Thunderbird" in its portfolio of premier products in the next five years.
Mays, in town for the annual classic car earlier this month at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, wouldn't specify. But the world's No. 2 auto maker has started a unit under Mays called the Living Legends design group. The team has turned out as its first post-Thunderbird project a nifty concept car called the Forty-Nine that almost everyone expects soon will be a production car.
It's a jet-black, V-8-powered coupe, appropriately designed in Southern California, hotbed of car customizing, at the company's advanced-styling studio in Valencia. It pays homage to the classic customized Fords and Mercurys of the late 1940s and early '50s, albeit as a thoroughly modern interpretation of same.
Mays said Ford will announce new products, designed by the Living Legends team, in October at the Specialty Equipment Market Association. trade show in Las Vegas and in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The SEMA event is the world's premier showcase for appearance and performance products for pickup trucks and custom cars and a likely spot for Ford to announce its intent to build the Forty-Nine or to hit the streets with a pickup concept that pays respects to the classic Ford F-150s of the late 1950s and '60s.
Pickup trucks are big sellers and Ford's F-Series trucks are the biggest-selling line of them all, but the company has done little recently to capitalize on its rich pickup heritage.
Mays also used the Pebble Beach weekend to discuss Ford's new global design studio in London and to introduce its first chief, BMW veteran Henrik Fisker.
Fisker was president of Designworks/USA, the German auto maker's North American advanced-design center in Simi Valley. The Denmark native's design credits include the exterior of the production Z8 roadster BMW launched in 1999.
As head of Ford's London Design Enterprise, Fisker will serve as chief designer for the auto maker's Aston Martin brand of exotic performance cars and oversee design review of all other Ford brands from a global perspective.
That, Fisker said in an interview, means that he and his team will be looking at everything down to the pattern of stitching used to sew leather upholstery pieces.
The London studio also will help develop accessories for various Ford brands -- the list begins with Aston Martin and continues through Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda and Mercury and ends with Volvo.
All this apparently is part of the effort to make sure that Ford's European brands remain European -- which automatically endows them with a degree of marketability in the United States -- while its cars and trucks intended primarily for the North American market get tweaked enough to make them suitable for sale in Europe as well.
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