Ehab Kaoud seems to have caught the imagination of car buyers better than many other designers in the industry, especially in emerging markets like India. The Chief Designer at Ford North America, Kaoud is the designer of the popular EcoSport compact SUV and at the Auto Expo in New Delhi in February this year, his most recent work – the Figo Concept – was unveiled to rave reviews. Based in Dearborn, Michigan, Kaoud is responsible for all car exteriors developed in the US, including global products. On the sidelines of the Figo Concept reveal, he spoke to us about the finer nuances of automobile design.
At Ford, there has been a partial evolution of design over the last few years. From the earlier Kinetic design, seen in many of its passenger vehicles in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the company is gradually moving to a One Ford design language. The EcoSport and the Figo Concepts are examples of the new design thought process. But Kaoud cautions that one cannot continue to evolve because you run the risk of evolving yourself into extinction. "With every car we do, it needs to signal change but within a context," he said.
For instance, the grille on the EcoSport as compared to the Figo concept is taller, and has a smaller grille above it that connects the headlamps. However, in no way it deviates from the One Ford design language that the company has now adopted. Today, Kaoud said, the company is more One Ford than ever before. The grille has a One Ford design and its becoming stronger and stronger with every passing product. "We don't create identical twins, but are creating brothers and sisters," he emphasised.
Every car design needs to be relevant to the time and relevant for the market. In doing so, one must ensure the design is consistent and structured. Kaoud compared two prominent exponents of abstract painting – famous for his style of drip painting, Jackson Pollock's work was not organised and is free and open to interpretation. It isn't very structured, but the work is beautiful. Wassily Kandinsky's work on the contrary is abstract, but has definite lines and cues. "Both works are beautiful in their own way, but on the surface Kandinsky gives the impression of being structured, organised and above all else consistent," Kaoud said.
It is this consistency in design that reflects stability in a brand, he justified, adding that this may be the reason why people respond to it well. The EcoSport and the Figo Concept are good examples of such consistency, he noted. But one must note that although the overall look is harmonious between both the products, no elements in the cars are the same. "There are design elements from the same family, and you can see the One Ford DNA, but they are not exactly the same," he said.
Assigned with the task of designing a sub-four-metre sedan, Kaoud was a worried man initially. Designing a vehicle within a limitation of 4,000 mm meant he had to squeeze it horizontally and pull vertically. That could make a sedan look very clumsy, wherein the requirement is to make it look elegant and sleek. To ensure the sedan didn't look compromised was a big challenge. In reality though, it helped Kaoud and his team design the Figo Concept.
The brief was simple – not to do a vehicle that resembles a tin can. The product needed muscularity, and fullness in sections. It had to look expensive than it is. The vehicle had to look very spacious but having a small footprint on the outside. At the end, the team did exactly that. It's a designer's dream to have the wheels on the corner of the vehicle as that helps in boosting the perception of the centre area being large, signifying spacious interiors, Kaoud noted.
Over the next decade or so, computers and smartphones would become more influential for automobile design than anything else. There will be more focus on vehicle interiors in the future. And that, Kaoud said, would open up a whole world of opportunities.
Text: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah