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Why Ford’s Euro design is changing: Joel Piaskowski replaces Martin Smith

Wed, 28 May 2014

By Tim Pollard

Motor Industry

28 May 2014 14:30

Ford today confirmed that it is shaking up its European design team, as it appoints Joel Piaskowski to replace the retiring Martin Smith.

Smith, 64, has led Ford of Europe’s design team for a decade and is the father of the brand’s edgy ‘kinetic design’, but will step down on 1 July 2014, it was announced this afternoon.

Before he retires fully at the end of the year Smith will work with the Blue Oval’s vice president of design, Moray Callum, on a global project looking at the future of Ford design. Kind of like a six-month crystal ball gazing session, then.

Smith is at retirement age and the handover is a planned succession, according to company insiders.

However, after a 10-year stint running a design studio it is doubtless time for change at the top. Smith brought in an inner circle of designers he trusts and time will tell if the incoming boss appoints his own coterie of department heads to push through change.

CAR’s view is that Smith has crafted a sharp-suited look for Fords over the past decade, reaching its zenith with the 2009 Fiesta. But fresh impetus is needed to keep the bread-and-butter models ahead of a competition which has in many cases caught up.

Piaskowski heads to Europe from roles running future concept car design and exterior styling in the US.

He numbers the new Ford Mustang and F-150 among the projects he led as director of exterior design for the Americas. Before he joined Ford in 2010, Piaskowski ran Mercedes’ Californian advanced design centre and spent six years at Hyundai’s US studio.

The 45-year-old was born in Michigan and graduated in 1990 from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit. His first job was working for GM, where he stayed for 12 years. This is his first design post outside the US.

‘Joel’s international experience and product versatility are particularly important as we continue to leverage our design talent around the globe to deliver truly world-class products,’ said global design chief Callum, brother of Jaguar design director Ian.

Smith will be best remembered as the man who spawned ‘kinetic design’, the sharp-creased school of styling which led to the Focus, Fiesta, Kuga, S-Max and Mondeo from 2004 onwards.

But his career also spans stints at Vauxhall/Opel, where he was responsible for the 2004 Astra, and Audi, where he was involved in the innovative 100 which made giant leaps in aerodynamics, as well as the original Quattro. 

He joined Audi as head of advanced design and special projects in 1977 and soon after worked on the Quattro, which was a pet project of Ferdinand Piech’s.

In an interview with CAR in May 2010, Smith told us: ‘My brief was to make the Quattro look technical, to stress that it was the first 4x4 performance car. I worked with a design model, and changed the fenders, the front end and the rear spoiler. I also came up with the flared arches.’

What's your reaction to the changes at Ford of Europe design? Are you a fan of 'kinetic design'? Sound off in the comments below

By Tim Pollard