This first installment of a special two-part story from MyFord magazine goes behind the scenes to see how the 2012 Ford Focus was designed.
As the first in a wave of truly global vehicles to come out of the brand-defining One Ford philosophy of Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally, the next-generation Focus contains universal characteristics – from the curve of the roof down to the tension in the accelerator – known as the Ford Global DNA. This is a car designed to appeal to drivers on all continents.
“An iPod is an iPod whether it’s in Europe or the U.S.,” says KC Dallia, Focus North America consumer marketing manager. “The new Focus will be instantly recognizable to everyone around the globe.”
Rather than having teams in North America, Europe and Asia develop continent-specific designs as in the past, three years ago Ford congregated all its Focus designers at the vehicle center in Merkenich, Germany. Their task was to create a modern-looking, technology-packed vehicle that is comfortable to sit in, convenient and, naturally, fun to drive. The 2012 Focus is all that and more.
Its striking body represents “kinetic design,” which captures the look of energy in motion.
“The proportions of this car really make it stand out,” says Stefan Lamm, director, Exterior Design, Ford of Europe, who headed the body design team. “It’s quite low without sacrificing the passenger compartment, and that reinforces the fun-to-drive aspect.”
The stakes for this project were considerable: The 2012 Focus will account for approximately 2 million vehicles in the next two years. “We expect this to be the biggest-selling nameplate in the world,” says Martin Smith, executive design director, Ford of Europe. “There was no pressure, of course,” he adds with a smile.
The car sprang to life nearly three years ago, when designers began making sketches on paper. The sketches were pinned up on the wall, and the design team identified the positive aspects of each one. It was an exercise to create the right proportions for the vehicle.
“We wanted it to be lower, leaner, wider, meaner,” says Smith.
The two-dimensional drawings were refined in Photoshop and then translated into a 3-D rendering to give designers a look at all angles. Lamm’s team then defined the kinetic design elements, such as bold wheel lips, strong shoulders and dynamic side creases
that link the front and rear wheel wells, accentuating the sense of motion.
Based on the 3-D data, full-size models were milled in clay for evaluation. The models were then refined by hand by expert sculptors and finally fitted with Plexiglas® windows and lights to look realistic. Three variations, from aggressively sporty to practical, were shown to groups of compact-car buyers in China, Europe and North America.
While all this sketching and sculpting of the surface was happening, the engineering team was planning the sheetmetal tooling. A digital mock-up was created through computer-aided design (CAD) data, and it provided a visual representation of the so-called hard points of the vehicle, such as where the engine would be mounted and how much headroom there would be.
Using the evolved CAD data, a virtual car was rendered in plain white so the team could do a fine analysis of the sheetmetal surfaces, transitions, lines and body details. This “doughboy” rendering is also used to create computer graphic interface (CGI) materials, from realistic images to full-motion videos.
The interior design team worked very closely with the exterior team and brought kinetic design to the cabin as well.
“Both the instrument panel – which looks like the wings of an airplane – and the center console are driver-oriented,” says Ernst Reim, chief designer, Interior, Ford of Europe, who headed up the project. “Together they create a ‘flow’ around the driver that makes him feel like he’s in the cockpit of a jet plane.”
The cabin of the 2012 Focus was designed similarly to the exterior, with sketches, computer drawings, clay models and more. It is also an example of flowing, kinetic design.
This story first appeared in MyFord magazine. Next month, part II in this look behind the scenes at the creation of the 2012 Ford Focus will be published in MyFord as well as here on theFordStory.com.