Ford's design chief J Mays retires at the end of the year after a 33-year career — 16 of them at Ford — and rides off with the retooling of the next-generation Mustang as one of his final acts.
Mays, 59, joined Ford in 1997 with a portfolio that included the Audi TT and the concept for the revived "New Beetle" while he worked at Volkswagen.
The native of Pauls Valley, Okla., worked at his family's auto parts store when he was young and graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., in 1980.
He moved to Ingolstadt, Germany, to work for Audi, left for a brief stint at BMW in 1983, but returned to become senior designer for Volkswagen and Audi. In 1989, Mays returned to the U.S. as Volkswagen of America's chief designer where he worked on the concept that became the New Beetle.
At Ford, the man in the trademark black turtleneck spent years leading design and added the title of chief creative officer in 2005. He also played consultant with Disney/Pixar for the movie Cars.
Mays oversaw the design team that created on the current Fusion that some critics have likened to an Aston Martin. The Fusion "ranks up there as the most satisfying car to date I've done at Ford," Mays said a year ago when the design team won the Detroit Free Press Automotive Leadership Award for design. "I think it is the car that will change people's perceptions of Ford as a design leader."
Mays talked to reporters about sculpting the all-new 2015 Mustang.
Is it harder to redesign an iconic vehicle?
No. It's a joy to work on a car like this. You get people lining up at your office door ready to work on a Mustang. So this is an absolute honor.
How long was the next-generation Mustang in the planning?
We started doing the planning in late 2009. The sketches were already starting to come across my desk three minutes after we kicked the program off.
Was the convertible designed alongside the hardtop?
Yes, exactly the same time because we had to have a profile that worked for both the fastback and the convertible.
Did you have to include all the traditional Mustang cues?
We have been thinking about the essential elements of this car for quite a long time. When you design a car there are thousands of sketches. There are about 15 models of the car. It's like making a movie. Much of it ends up on the cutting room floor. The biggest trick was editing down all of the Mustang cues because we could have put more on, but we found we didn't need to.
What is your favorite aspect of it?
The tri-bar tail lamps. I'm just a sucker for history.
Did you have to make changes knowing it will be sold globally?
We wanted to design a Mustang first and foremost and offer that to the world. I've lived overseas long enough to know people who live in Europe and Asia love it because of its Americanism. No watering down. We had to bring the faithful along. We couldn't possibly lose them. And we wanted to attract a new audience as well. I think we struck the right balance with this car.
How do you market and sell it in Asia?
You don't have to sell it. If it doesn't sell itself, you're probably not a Mustang fan.
How will it do overseas?
You have 50 years of pent-up demand. So the number of people craving to get into a Mustang overseas will, I think, surprise us.