Interview with Amko Leenarts on the design of new all-electric 2024 Ford Capri

Jul 10, 2024

Bringing back a legendary car like the Ford Capri is a significant event. The new Capri is set to bring a fresh sense of style to the world of electric vehicles (EVs) and introduce a new generation of drivers to the spirit of a cult classic. To understand more about the design, we spoke with Amko Leenarts, Ford Europe's Design Director. He explained the Capri's design process, shared where the team finds their inspiration, and described how they created an unforgettable experience for every driver and passenger. Amko Leenarts has been a designer at Ford since 2012. Now, as the Design Director of Ford Europe, Leenarts brings a wealth of experience from working on two continents.

Hi Amko! It’s not every day that you get a chance to redesign an icon, so can you highlight specific design cues that have been carried over in the new ford capri?

Yeah sure! The Capri is part of our ‘Hero Nameplates’ strategy. This strategy involves creating unique vehicles that stand out from each other and from the competition. We aim to make products and services that only Ford can create, tell stories only Ford can tell, and build a diverse and opinionated product portfolio that highlights different aspects of people's lives.

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You can already see this strategy in action with the Mustang, Mustang Mach-E, Bronco, Bronco Sport, and now the Explorer EV. For the Capri, we saw its exciting background and felt it was the right choice despite some initial discussions. The challenge was to avoid making a retro car; instead, we wanted a modern vehicle aimed at the ‘Aspirer’ customer.

“With Ford Capri, we’re celebrating our past while reinventing our future.”   ~  Amko Leenarts

The ‘Aspirer’ is a customer who is an early adopter of modern technology, willing to pay more for it, very social, excited about the future, and generally optimistic. With this customer in mind, we started the project, deciding early on to call it Capri.

Ford Capri Evolution Sketches

Amko Leenarts (Design Director, Ford Europe) with Andrey Konopatov (Exterior Designer) and Murat Gueler (Chief Designer, Passenger Vehicles Europe)

We didn't want a direct retro car but imagined how the Capri would have evolved if we had updated it every 10 years since 1986. This approach led us to create a modern interpretation of the Capri nameplate.

The new Capri is described as having a “soulful coupe SUV design with a distinctive silhouette” Can you explain the design philosophy behind this?

We focused on giving the new Capri a coupe silhouette similar of the original model. The body has sculpted lines that emphasize the stance, with prominent wheels for a strong presence. Our goal was to ensure the design is easily recognizable from a distance, achieved through bold graphics like the unique ‘Capri Swoosh’ on the side windows.

Moving to the front, we crafted a visor-like effect with the A-pillar, creating a blend of openness and solidity. The twin headlamps were reimagined with a bold dog-bone graphic, making them stand out. At the front, we highlighted the EV nature with a substantial body-coloured area and at the rear, we mirrored the front's design language with clear graphics and similar light signatures, ensuring a cohesive look. As a tribute to the original Capri, we placed the Capri lettering behind the glass, adding a touch of nostalgia.

And you know the best part is that it sits about 10 centimetres higher than a Tesla Model 3. This height gives it a strong presence while also addressing customer preferences. Sitting higher is important because it makes customers feel more secure; sitting too low can make them feel vulnerable. We didn't want it to be a tough SUV, though. The design communicates optimism, boldness, and confidence. These qualities guided our design process, ensuring the car reflects these attributes.

So, it's fair to say that you are targeting both the fans of the American muscle and new generation of EV enthusiasts?

Yes. Our focus has been on the ‘Aspirer’ mindset, which isn't tied to a specific age group but rather a way of thinking. Throughout our design process, we conduct research three times. Initially, we delve deep into understanding our customers, gaining insights into their lifestyles and desires. Then, once we have a concept, we gather feedback from customers to see how they respond. Finally, we conduct market acceptance research, where we unveil the full car, including pricing, to gauge overall reception.

Consistently, our research has shown that customers are enthusiastic about a coupe or sedan silhouette that sits a bit higher, providing a sense of safety and excellent visibility of the road. They often express how safe they feel transporting their families in such a vehicle. These insights have been crucial because our aim wasn't just to create a stylish car but also a responsible one that accommodates families, young individuals, and people of all genders. We aimed to cater to a broad audience while keeping the ‘Aspirer’ mindset at the forefront of our design decisions.

You mentioned that interior of Capri is very human-centric. Can you elaborate?

Well, this vehicle was a balancing act between preserving the Capri's essence and ensuring comfort for all five occupants. We prioritized creating an interior that feels exceptionally light and spacious. Around the knee area, we narrowed it slightly to enhance comfort, while around the shoulders, we widened it for a more open feel that also promotes a sense of safety. When you look at the dashboard, we emphasized width to create a perception of spaciousness, even though the car itself is compact. 

The interior design of the new ford capri is very human-centered, especially in the central area, making it easy to stay focused on the road. At night, it's designed to be unobtrusive, almost like a day-night mode, ensuring minimal distraction and when you're in the city, it becomes more interactive and responsive to your needs.

As an additional feature, we introduced something called ‘my private locker’ underneath, a lockable space with USB slots. It's ideal for securing valuables like a phone while you're out running or exploring. This adds peace of mind, knowing your belongings are safe and secure. 

Moving towards the back, there are two storage compartments, one with wireless charging for phones, and another with removable cup holders. European feedback highlighted a preference for storage over traditional cup holders, so we designed these features accordingly. The storage tray is shallow, allowing for a 17-liter compartment underneath, perfect for a laptop or securing a handbag—a crucial concern for many female customers.

This console innovation is a first in the industry, providing ample space to safely store a handbag, reducing the risk of theft and improving safety while driving.

This could be a X Factor which makes you stand out from the other brands!

Certainly! In the EV world, everyone was following the trend of flat platforms with space, assuming that's what customers wanted. But in reality, customers desire more storage and functionality. That's where our removable cup holder comes in—it's innovative because we've released its digital data on Ford's website. Now, people can use this data to create their customized accessories, which is a first in the industry.

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This approach encourages creativity and engagement. For example, if someone doesn't need a cup holder, they can store it away and use the space differently. Fleet owners might create a fold-out table for stationary moments, or taxi operators might design a holder for multiple phones or payment devices. It's all about giving people the tools to customize their vehicles according to their specific needs, leveraging the digital data we provide. This initiative opens a new world of possibilities for customization and personalization in automotive design.

Great to see how the design of the new Capri meets the practical needs of modern drivers and passengers!

Absolutely! We are committed to co-creating with our customers, a principle we've deeply integrated from our Ford Pro division. Our commercial vehicles, like the Ford Transit, have featured practical solutions such as the foldable steering wheel, which initially required courage to implement. However, these innovations have been warmly received by customers. We anticipate similar enthusiasm for the Capri.

About 15 years ago, customers were fine with getting a Ford Focus that might be a bit better equipped than their neighbour’s. It was okay to have the same car as others. But with the rise of social media, people have become more self-aware. They want to stand out and don't mind looking different from others. This shift has been happening over the past decade or so, and it's influenced how cars are perceived and chosen. Nowadays, car buyers are looking for vehicles that reflect their individuality and personality. They want to personalize their cars to match their unique preferences and style.

For instance, if someone needs to convert their vehicle into a garbage bin due to frequent travels with children, they will have the flexibility to do so. That's the reason we are offering customization options as this customer-centric approach ensures our vehicles meet diverse needs and exceed expectations.

Apart from the diverse needs and expectations how did the design team ensure that the interior design complements the exterior design language?

So, on the Capri, our goal was to create a safe and confident driving experience. If you look at the design, there's a light band that starts from the door, sweeps up, and flows into the console. This feature not only enhances the car's spaciousness but also adds a sporty touch demanded by its exterior design. We've incorporated details like the third spoke of the steering wheel, which has a metal design with drilled holes reminds of 1960s race cars, loved by many for its nostalgic appeal. This reflects the spirit of the exterior into the interior, creating a cockpit-like feel.

Another notable feature is the Bang and Olufsen sound bar that spans two-thirds of the dashboard, resembling a spaceship landing. It starts near the left side of the steering wheel and extends above the right corner of the screen, enhancing the driver's experience. Additionally, integrated headrests in the seats provide excellent support, ensuring comfort on the road.

Sustainability is the need of the hour. Can you tell us what role sustainability played in the design process of the Ford Capri? Were there any eco-friendly materials or methods used?

Because the Capri is electric, we're very mindful of its environmental impact. We've set a target that 78% of the car will be recycled by the end of its life, which is a key focus for us. Additionally, we've invested $2 billion in our Cologne factory, where the Capri will be made. This factory has undergone a complete restructuring to maximize energy efficiency, relying heavily on renewable energy sources. It's located in a century-old building that we've refurbished for sustainability.

 Read more in detail about material innovation

Moreover, the Capri is leather-free. We've introduced a new material called Sensical, which is cruelty-free and animal-free. This material aligns perfectly with our sustainability goals and supports our commitment to environmental responsibility.

Could you share some of the biggest design challenges the team faced during the development of the new Ford Capri?

I think the design team felt the pressure of the nameplate because of the Capri's legacy. Initially, they were cautious, not wanting to commit too much energy. But as we discussed what the car could be and how we could play with proportions and graphics, the designers became enthusiastic about the project. One of the biggest challenges was achieving the coupe silhouette we envisioned.

Andrey Konopatov, Exterior Designer at Ford

We were aware about not having a rear window wiper, as that could disrupt the car's sleek profile and make it resemble a five-door model from the past. Ensuring aerodynamics while keeping the rear window clean was a tricky balance. We also had to ensure there was enough headroom and maintain a substantial mass above the rear wheels in the side view, which posed challenges. Another significant challenge was the front end. The original Capri had a long hood, and to enhance the car's length, we made the front pillar black, creating a continuous line from the rear of the side profile to the front of the car. This gave the car a more graceful and elongated appearance.

If I go in interior of the ford capri, transitioning from a traditionally horizontal screen to a vertical one was also a bit challenging. Overall, these were the key challenges we faced in designing the Capri, both on the exterior and interior.

How does the design of the new Capri reflect Ford’s vision for the future of electric vehicle design?

So, as I mentioned earlier, we're executing our strategy of hero nameplates, where each vehicle stands out distinctly. From the F-150 to the Mustang GT, and now the Capri and Bronco, each has its own unique DNA and strengths. What ties them together is a bold American design ethos. We've embraced our American heritage instead of trying to mimic European styles, which sets us apart in the European market. All our products exude optimism and approachability. Whether it's the F-150, the Bronco, or our new Explorer EV, they all reflect a positive, friendly behaviour rather than a stern, intimidating presence. 

There's also a deliberate simplicity in our designs. We believe in offering straightforward, honest designs without unnecessary complexity. Our customers appreciate this authenticity and clarity, steering away from overly stylized looks that some competitors may favour. Unlike other brands that impose a uniform design DNA across their entire lineup, we celebrate diversity within our range. Each model retains its unique identity while sharing our core values of boldness, optimism, and simplicity.

Why is this shift happening? Is it due to Ford's Hero Nameplate Strategy?

Yes, our hero nameplates strategy is like how Marvel features different superheroes in each movie, from Captain America to Superman. This approach allows us to cater to a wide range of customer preferences without compromising on what makes each vehicle special. Each Ford vehicle, whether it's the Mustang, Bronco, or Capri, has its own unique characteristics and strengths. These models represent our brand's diverse stories and standout features, which we consider their superpowers. 

In contrast to the approach some of our German competitors take, where models within their lineup share similar design elements like Russian dolls, we believe this strategy doesn't highlight our strengths effectively. Our hero nameplate’s philosophy is central to our design ethos, emphasizing the uniqueness and individuality of each Ford vehicle. It allows us to tell compelling stories through our products, showcasing their distinctiveness and appealing to a wide range of customers looking for something special in their vehicle choice.

As the Design Director, what aspect of the new all-electric Capri are you most proud of?

I'm most proud of how easily recognizable the car is from a distance, as I mentioned earlier. This recognition comes from its proportions and distinctive graphics that make it stand out and clearly communicate its strengths.

The bold graphics and unique colours we're introducing will help it get noticed. It's about making customers feel confident that they can safely transport their families while still enjoying a sporty driving experience. It's not just one detail that makes me proud; it's how the entire car comes together and looks impressive on the road.

There's a lot of discussion about AI nowadays. What are your thoughts and have you already started incorporating this tool in your design process at Ford?

Yes, we have already started using these tools in the studio. For the younger generation, and especially for designers in our studio, curiosity is key. Car designers, more than perhaps any other industrial designers, are always looking ahead because car development takes a long time. AI is definitely a tool that can assist in certain aspects, much like how Photoshop revolutionized design work. It can provide inspiration and save time for tasks like rendering. However, creativity and the deeper reasons behind design decisions must come from humans. Currently, AI relies on existing data and patterns to generate variations, but it can't innovate or solve complex, human-centred design problems on its own.

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I have noticed a trend among young designers where they sketch something quickly, use software to create a polished render, and then share it on platforms like Instagram, receiving lots of positive feedback. If that's your approach, it's fine with me. However, when you submit your portfolio to me, I'd appreciate honesty. It's important to include a disclaimer stating if you used AI or other tools. Being transparent is crucial because ultimately, you're only cheating yourself. Design starts with an idea, the ability to visualize it, and bring it to life. It's not just about generating thousands of AI variants and picking a few to present as your own creation. Design is much more than that, especially if you aspire to create something truly unique and ambitious.
 

What advice would you give to aspiring automotive designers who look up to the design work of the Ford Capri?

Yeah, I would say it's incredibly important for the younger generation to be very curious about what's happening in the world. Designing things with a purpose and a clear concept in mind is key. When you have a strong idea from the start, it's easier to bring it to life and convince others of its value. In my studio, we have two types of designers: some who consider all factors like customers, market trends, and competition before starting (what I call "before the pencil" design), and others who rely more on intuition and start drawing right away. Both approaches are valid, but those who think through their designs tend to be better at defending them because they understand the reasons behind their choices.

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Collaboration is also crucial. Design is never a solo thing—it's always about teamwork and pooling talents. I believe in the power of working together to achieve great results. Another piece of advice I often give is that I'm not just an artist; I'm an industrial designer with expertise in a highly complex field. Industrial design, especially in automotive, is incredibly demanding and requires deep knowledge and energy to solve challenges. Being curious about every aspect of a product's development is important, not just the interior or user experience design. We've shifted from simply developing products to creating experiences, and developing skills in this direction will be invaluable for future employers in the automotive industry.

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