Black Designers Add Flair to New Car Models

Industry professional says its about talent, hard work

2010taurus

Ford Motor Co.'s Earl Lucas worked on the 2010 Taurus, a model showcased at the Detroit auto show.

Earl Lucas is one of a handful of black car designers in the industry, but his role in the design of Ford Motor Co.’s 2010 Taurus illustrates that something major is happening.

Call it change sans the blue donkey or red elephant.

Actually, strike that. Call it change on wheels.

No, better yet, call it style noir on wheels.

Black car designers are being tapped to handle critical auto products, and in the famous words of Martha Stewart, that’s a good thing. Lucas designed the exterior body of the reborn Taurus. Judging from accolades received at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, the vehicle is off to a promising start.

“When you look at the Taurus, it’s gorgeous,” one analyst said. “It’s the complete package.”

The marquee was once the best-selling car, eventually nixed, then brought back from the dead after Ford decided killing it in the first place was probably not such a hot idea. Ford hopes the Taurus, an American staple, and Ford Fusion cars will help lift sales.

“It’s one thing to do a good-looking car,” Lucas said. “It’s another to do a car that’s iconic.”

No. Arguments. Here.

I asked Lucas to explain why auto makers appear to be putting more black designers at the forefront of major design projects. It’s about talent and hardwork, he said.

And of course, there’s that other factor. “African Americans really have a sense of style,” he said, pointing to a shiny red Taurus rotating on display at the auto show.

Among those in this exclusive club are Ed Wellburn, General Motors Corp.’s vice president of global design; Crystal Windham, responsible for the interior design of the acclaimed Chevrolet Malibu mid-size sedan and director of North American passenger car design for GM; Michael Burton, GM director of exterior design for front-wheel-drive trucks and luxury crossovers, which are sport utility-esque vehicles that ride like cars.

Burton was lead interior designer for the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. Ralph Gilles, Chrysler L.L.C.’s chief designer, gained notoriety for designing the bejeweled Chrysler 300C large sedan, a hit that was nicknamed the “Hip Hop Car” and caused automakers to ornate vehicles with chrome accent galore.

And so the story goes, blacks continue to redefine the arts, including car and truck sketches.
Designers, like other artsy folks, tend to pour their experiences into their work. The black factor, being an experience within itself, is no different.

“We’re an embellished people,” Burton said.

The auto industry is certainly paying greater attention. And quite frankly, on the backdrop of a global and, ahem, diverse economy, it can’t afford not to tap into all its resources. It’s about finding out what sticks.

And Ford is attempting to do that for a vehicle crucial to its comeback.

ACROSS THE WEB
  • tony stark

    This piece undercuts the black designers you’re attempting to highlight.

    How? Many aspects of car design have more to do with aerodynamics and achieving fuel efficiency than they do with making a car look “gorgeous”. I’m sure Lucas’s input was more complicated than simply helping Ford make the Taurus more “fly”.

    • sdnative1

      Not exactly. The problem was that American cars lacked the “fly” factor. They just didn’t look as smooth as the imports. Also, it’s clearly not all about how aerodynamic the vehicle is. Case in point, the Chrysler 300M which has sold in incredible numbers and helped save Chrysler. There’s also been a trend toward angular designs like the Cadillacs.

  • One who knows the industry

    I, on the other hand disagree. My point is validated by looking at all black designers. Those at GM as well the designer of the Chyrsler 300. Ultimatley these gentleman still do know about demographics! Also about how one buys based on almost 90% looks 5% features as well as the remaining percentage on price! Now as for the aerodynamics; G-force, Drag, Grip, Weight Dist.;Torque:Speed ratio’s they got it down! AND! The basics like 0-60, braking, slolams and how shaving one inch off the roofline might change all of that! Im 19!
    And I know that”TONY STARK”

  • james

    silly & poor playback of video

  • Walter Street AIA/NOMA

    The cliche that continues to work in the realm of design is “form follows function”. Significant and affective design is not superficial, but very deep and complex requiring analytical research and execution. The nature of effective design is not illustrated in this story. This becomes a disservice to the talent you highlight and that talent that would be nurtured for the future.

    wdsIII

  • Alyssa

    To strengthen the article, an expert or corporate authorty should have been interviewed to shead light on why they are hiring more African Americans. Lucus’s opinion is not enough support. Why not ask Ford Motor Co.why ??

  • Alyssa

    Though I did enjoy the article, I do have some criticism. Corporate authorities from Ford Motor Co. should have been interviewed to report way they hire more African American car designers. Lucas’s opinion on the matter is not enough support.

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  • Dr. Know

    Hey, What happened to the designers from Toyota?

    They are the number one car company now not GM. What about Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes? Don’t they have someone that they can talk about? It looks to me that Blacks need to support American Car Companies. Not Foreign ones!

  • Dr. Know More

    Dr. Know. You don’t know anything. The car companies mentioned in the article are American! The ones you mentioned, Toyota ( which is a cookie cutter company) Honda, BMW, Ect. are all foreign companies. Nothing against them, but I think focusing on GM, Chrysler and Ford does us better in the long run as a country. There is room for both, foreign and domestic!

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