The Design and Sustainability Process that Goes Into Making a Ford

The @Ford Harvesting Sustainable Design event taught us about the sustainability and design process that goes behind  the making of every Ford car. The event was held at the Drive In Studios in New York.  This event focused on the direction Ford is going with using fall colors and sustainable plant-based materials in the design and manufacturing.  Specifically, the event showcased how Ford is using the fall harvest season as inspiration for everything from colors and design trends to creation of vehicle parts and fabrics using sustainable materials.

On hand were Ford designers, researchers, and food experts discussing their specific areas of expertise and how the fall colors and sustainable materials play a role in their work.  Internationally renowned registered dietitian Ashley Koff was also present and provided the ingredients to create a healthy granola snack using many of the sustainable plant-based products that Ford is using to develop vehicle materials and fabrics.

The cuisine serviced at the event also focused on the theme of fall harvest and sustainable plants.

Ford and Sustainable Materials

It was enlightening to learn how Ford is working closely with other companies to use sustainable plant-based materials such as soybeans, corn, carrots, coconuts, and wood to develop vehicle parts ranging from door panels to seat foam padding to seat fabric.  Ellen Lee, a Ford technical expert in plastics research, was on hand to explain the work Ford is doing in this field using an exhibit that showed examples of vehicle parts and the sustainable plant-based product used to make them.  The innovative approach using sustainable plant-based materials for vehicle parts has multiple benefits; including reduced need for petroleum-based parts thus further reducing dependence on oil, reduced carbon footprint when manufacturing these parts and reduction in disposal sites as many of the vehicle parts will be biodegradable.  Just think about it, instead of junkyards filled with plastic vehicle parts that could last forever, biodegradable vehicle parts are recycled back into the ground.

One example of Ford’s work with sustainable plant-based materials:

“Ford and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company are researching the use of coconut fiber reinforcement for molded plastic parts to reduce the use of petroleum and make the parts lighter and more natural-looking.”

The parts mentioned in the quote are being made from the waste product (coconut husks) from Scotts soil and grass seed products manufacturing.

Some of the Ford vehicle parts already in production include soybean foam seat cushions and head restraints, wheat straw-filled plastic bins and Castor oil foam in instrument panels.

Ford and Fashion

Providing insight as to how Ford predicts color and design trends were two of Ford’s lead designers:  Ford Senior Interior Designer, Anthony Prozzi and Ford Global Chief Color and Materials Designer Susan Swek.

Ford Designer Anthony Prozzi

Interior Design

Anthony Prozzi, previously a menswear designer, previewed how the trends seen on the fashion runway are transitioned into the shapes and materials seen in / on vehicles.  He also shared how the creative applications of sustainable materials take place in both fashion and vehicles. Neither one of us had any idea that Ford, or any car maker, actually had a design team. I guess it never crosses your mind that the inside of the car, fabric choices, and materials all  have to start with the design. Engineers take over after the design process is complete but Anthony and his team actually come up with what the inside will look like, what fabrics will be used.

Anthony said:

“So when you get into a vehicle like the Focus and you look at all the surfaces, all the nuances and textures and the mix of materials that that’s what makes design so exciting right now, we’re taking it to a whole new level, that we’re really getting inside people’s thought’s and even when they can’t say what they want, we know what they want and we can give it to them.”

Just like fashion, the change of seasons plays a role in vehicle design.

Prozzi sees the trend of vehicle interiors going green and clean, emphasizing sculptural elegance. “Today, with all the turmoil going on in the world, I think people are seeking something really beautiful, really lasting,” he says. “They want something that will put a smile on their face.”

Ford Designer Susan Swek

Color Trends and Approach

Susan Swek, Ford’s color guru, shared the latest predictions in color trends and the psychology behind these new colors.  She explained the depth and breath of work involved with researching and developing new vehicle colors.  It can take upwards of three years of work before a new couple is moved to production.  Work on the color does not stop after it moves to production, analysis of sales and customer feedback is conducted for the color to determine if the color should be continued or discarded.  She focused on how the colors of the fall and harvest season are incorporated into the color design.

“The new colors coming on vehicles this year are fresh, rich and grounding,” said Susan Swek, group chief designer, Color & Material Design. “We don’t just choose a color and it winds up on a car. We study and understand how important color is to all kinds of our customers.”

Three new color choices available from Ford include:

Ginger Ale, which will be seen on the all-new Ford Escape when it debuts at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show, was named for its energy and refreshing qualities. A classic gold neutral with slight green undertones, it’s found naturally in rocks, minerals and sandy beaches as well as jewelry, gems and textiles

Kodiak Brown, named after Alaska’s Kodiak bear for its richness and strong presence, is a deep brown with slight warm highlights. The fashion industry pairs it as a neutral with black, caramels, blues and greens

Frosted Glass, a signature color of the Ford Focus Electric, is an icy light green that elicits a sense of calm, relaxation and tranquility, reminding of a spa or warm tropical waters. Seen in the fashion world, from light shades of green to dark teal.

ford focus electric car

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