Peter Horbury with the Lincoln MKR

Peter Horbury is responsible for the design strategy and execution of all Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury products in North America. At this year's Detroit Auto Show, one of the unquestioned stars on the floor was the stunning 400-horsepower Lincoln MKR. We sat down with Peter in Detroit to talk about the 4-door coupe and how it's going to influence Lincoln's designs over the long term. We also touched on the latest iterations of the Ford Five hundred and Focus and how he'll continue the progression toward a unified corporate look for the oval. Peter's very charming, and he's passionate about restoring the grandeur to the Lincoln brand. Based on the MKR, we'd say he's definitely got a handle on things. Read on and decide for yourselves. It starts below and continues after the jump.

Peter Horbury - Ford Executive Director of Design, North America
North American International Auto Show
January 8, 2007

Autoblog: Peter, thanks for sitting with us today. The MKR is obviously one of the big stars of the show this year, and there are several elements there that have generated a lot of conversation in the enthusiast community. Talk to us a little bit about what your approach was when you took on the MKR project.

Peter Horbury: Okay. Well, the MKR's here really to establish Lincoln's new DNA which we're actively pursuing in the studio now on production projects. So really, we could choose I suppose what type of car on which to demonstrate this, and of course 4-door coupes seem to be just the right, perfect car for Lincoln eventually. So this is what we've done; produced a car which carries Lincoln's new DNA but also a lot of the cues that Lincoln had from its past. And all of the design details or design cues that we're using will appear -- they're about to appear – on the new Lincolns very soon, and for the next few years. So here we are with all of them on one car.


Autoblog: There's a real sense of drama to the front-end of the car with the large winged grill. So that grill design is really definitely something that we can expect to see start to trickle through?

Peter Horbury: It is. Actually it came from 1941, believe it or not. It was the 1941 Lincoln Continental which had -- I wouldn't say a split wing -- but it had a sort of bow wave design. And it was unique to Lincoln and we've just translated it again into something modern. We've basically moved the elements apart so in the middle there's a painted surface for the badge to sit on. And so, the badge is no longer fighting against the chrome behind it which I think has given a very distinct face to the car and that's important that you see this car coming down the road, you know it's a Lincoln immediately.

Autoblog: Now at the rear of the car there's a little rise in the middle. What's the intent there?

Peter Horbury: The rear-end grows outwards and downwards. It's very much like the elegance of a beautiful sailing yacht. The stern always did the same trick. I said in the launch it's a bit like a gown flowing through the water. It also has the side-to-side tail lamps and when you look back at Lincoln's heritage, the full length tail lamps are also a significant feature of the famous Lincolns. But what I wanted to achieve in this car was not brute force, not out and out sportiness. It has a very sporting character, a very nice sense of direction with its slightly sloping downwards to the front aspect -- the wheels in the right place. But at the same time, we have to include this elegance, this sophistication that Lincoln always stood for in the great days of Lincoln.

Autoblog: Is it challenging to incorporate traditional elements like that while preserving the identity of the car?

Peter Horbury: We don't do retro. Make that point straightaway. The idea is to pick out elements from heritage and our past that people will probably remember once they see them and present them in a modern way. We're not repeating the past, we're reminding of the past. And what I'm looking for is that almost subconscious recognition so that when people see this car they'll say well, I can see that's a Lincoln but don't ask me why.
That's all I need. I know why because I know exactly what we've done to preserve some of the important aspects of Lincoln's heritage, but without just bringing it in per se -- wholesale – into the current look. So we keep a modernity about it at the same time respecting our past.

Autoblog: Let's speak about the interior for a moment because in the current Lincoln lineup there is a definite nod to the past with the way that the dash is laid out and the shape of the instrumentation. You just stated that there is no interest in doing retro, and this is clearly a very modern interior. It's a concept car interior so there's obviously going to be a lot of differences from what we're accustomed to seeing. What are some of the things inside that are going to influence production models?

Peter Horbury: I think the interior of Lincoln does represent Lincoln -- actually Lincoln's past, present and future. In a way, there's a symmetry about the instrument panel and center console. There's no hierarchy here. There's no higher aspect to the driver's side than the passenger's side, it's very much equal. And that sort of shared experience is what we want with Lincoln. It's not the ultimate driving machine, where everything is angled toward the driver and the passenger can sit there if they really want to but you know, isn't really welcome.

Autoblog: It embraces all the occupants in the car.

Peter Horbury: Yeah. If you look back to the 60's, the instrument panels in the Lincolns were the same. Today's Navigator and today's MKZ have the same equal height side to side. We can't do it on everything because of the layout of the form beneath, but when we can we want to do it so this car is very much in the vein of subtle sophistication, it's not brash. Lincoln was always at its best when it played that role of the more subtle, more sophisticated, more elegant luxury car from America rather than, "Hey, look at me, I'm rich!" chrome decoration.

Inside the car, we're using materials which are very environmentally friendly. There's wood, beautiful reconstituted, re-engineered oak. The leather on the seats is chromium free, in other words, the process to make it, or the tanning process, doesn't use that one component that really is environmentally bad which is chromium, it comes from a Scottish company where they even, how do you say, they source their leather from farms that [incorporate] very humane treatment of the animals and even to their harvesting.

So here we have a very soft, supple leather, beautiful to the touch, beautiful to look at but it's produced without all the bad aspects of leather production. So our idea, with the subtlety of the exterior, the environmentally-friendly interior and the more environmentally conscious powertrain -- V-6 instead of a V-8, the power of a V-8 with the fuel consumption of a 6 -- it has a combination which we refer to as guilt-free luxury.

In other words, you can have your cake and eat it. You can actually enjoy the fruits of your labors. You can spend money on a car but it's neither at the expense of other people nor the environment. It's more what Lincoln was good at back in those days when it was, you know, the ultimate choice of a luxury vehicle in America. It was the buyer who had self-confidence, who didn't need to show off but had a beautiful car.

Autoblog: This elegant theme on display here that you want to carry through Lincoln -- how challenging is it to carry that sense of elegance through to the trucks which are obviously not a traditional platform for luxury vehicles – although they've fast become part of it now.

Peter Horbury: Well, in the future Lincoln will have a number of vehicles which we don't have right now. You know, we talk about crossovers here, for example, where you know we will see a definite difference between the Ford and the Lincoln. We'll no longer see the Ford with the Lincoln badge or Lincoln grill. It's going to be quite different. The elegance can be brought into trucks as well. I mean, even the Ford truck we showed last year, the Super Chief, there was a line on that car, for all its size and powerful look, there was a line that drifted downwards toward the rear which I think settled that truck into a much more almost yacht like gracefulness and that's something that I think whether we do a Lincoln as long as we reflect those positive times when Lincoln was represented with that degree of elegance then we can call it Lincoln, whatever the vehicle is. And believe me -- I can't show you today what a bigger Lincoln vehicle would look like, but I can assure you it will be as elegant as this.

Autoblog: Since you bring up the Super Chief, it's interesting to see the Super Chief kind of come back in a couple of different forms this year.

Peter Horbury: Yeah.

Autoblog: Obviously the new super duty pickups have taken a lot from the Super Chief and the Super Chief's face is essentially on the Interceptor. It's interesting to see such a truck-like feature become such a key influence on the styling of a car.

Peter Horbury: It's by design. But the idea there I think -- you know, the blue oval on the front of a truck or SUV has a huge equity in this country. You know, it just belonged on the front of a pickup truck or the front of an SUV -- the Ford badge just sealed it, it was perfect. With cars, it's been a while since the Ford badge on the front of a car had that same equity.

We've had, you know, good cars. We concentrated on the bigger vehicles and therefore the blue oval meant an awful lot on those things. Having presented the Super Chief with its big blue oval in the middle of that great grille...

Autoblog: It's a real assertion of the brand...

Peter Horbury: Well, we thought if we can bring some of the equity that Ford blue oval has on the trucks down into the car somewhat then our cars will have that same shared equity.

Autoblog: In that case, then the Interceptor then is really another "have your cake and eat it" vehicle because it combines -- and this is something we've discussed internally a lot -- it's a combination of two of the things Ford does very very well, which of course is trucks and Mustangs. I mean Mustang is as iconic a vehicle as there is from any company.

Regarding the design direction for Ford as a whole, we saw that continue to evolve with the introduction of the new Five Hundred and Focus this week. Talk to us about the more tied-in look, as the corporate face is now much more prevalent in the lineup.

Peter Horbury: Well, I've been here three years. What we're trying to do here is to get that Five Hundred back into the public arena. You say well, it really is a Ford, look at it now. And with the establishment of that look through the Fusion and the Edge of course, it's become the face of Ford so why not give the Five Hundred a chance. It may have had a somewhat benign appearance in the front before this but now it's got the same design direction as the Fusion and the Edge and the concept cars, of course. I think it's become part of the family and I think it looks a lot more appealing for it. I think the three-bar chrome grill has given it some exclusivity in the market and I think that we will see the benefits of it inside as well, some changes, enough to put it where people would expect the quality levels and design to be. And so I'm quite comforted that that car will now have a good run. The Focus is very new, very much sport character.

Autoblog: It's very different. Leaving the hatchback behind, that's got to be a difficult decision to make because the hatchback really had a style all its own.

Peter Horbury: Yeah. Well it did, but the sedan was the one people bought in this country. Hatchbacks are most popular in Europe. Sedans are most popular in America. So we concentrate on the sedan and then we introduced a coupe with it so the body styles more appealing to the youth of America are what we're building here, and then concentrating on hatchbacks elsewhere.

Autoblog: Peter, thanks for taking the time to speak to us.

Peter Horbury: You're very welcome. Cheers.