The future of car design, according to Ford

Speaking at the Salone del Mobile in Milan earlier this week, Ford director of design Joel Piaskowski predicted a future for cars featuring 3D printing, car sharing, and autonomous vehicles…

Speaking at the Salone del Mobile in Milan earlier this week, Ford director of design Joel Piaskowski predicted a future for cars featuring 3D printing, car sharing, and autonomous vehicles…

Ford has had a presence at the Salone del Mobile, Milan’s enormous annual furniture fair, since 2000. This year, the brand is not showcasing any particular product – though imagery of its forthcoming new model GT appears on its stand and on the outside of a light installation displayed in a square in the city (above). Instead, Ford is keen to show off its design talent this time through more ambiguous means, by inviting its designers from around the world to propose designs for non-automotive products, which are shared on the stand.

Ford’s key design team also gave a series of talks and interviews on the stand about the new GT and the brand’s future developments. Of the latter, Piaskowski envisions a future for drivers where we can choose many different ways to both use, and design, our cars. He also acknowledges that the relationship with cars for millennials may be very different to his own.

“Mobility for myself growing up – I’m 46 years old – was first foot, then bicycle, then automobile,” he says. “Mobility today for children is electronic, it’s an instant connection so there’s less desire to move around and go and meet your friends somewhere because you can do that electronically.

“But having said that, sooner or later people do want to explore and the automobile is always that point of freedom to do that. Now if you look at the car-sharing programmes, Uber as well, the car is still a very important aspect but it’s the usage of the car that’s changing. So perhaps we may not have a millennial owner, but a millennial sharer. That’s a challenge for us to think how can we can redesign, or reinterpret vehicles for car sharing or fractional ownership.”

Ford’s stand at Salone del Mobile in Milan

Piaskowski envisions 3D printing – which the company currently uses to create prototypes but is not yet featured in its finished vehicles – being used significantly in the creation of cars in the future. “There are companies out there 3D printing cars or elements of the car,” he says. “If you fast-forward, what does that mean long term? I’m not talking 5 or 10 years, it could be 15, 20 years, but having the ability to print a car, and how technology is evolving so quickly, you could really start customising a car for individuals or needs, in a very different way than we build and manufacture cars today.”

He also discussed Ford’s developments within the hottest topic in car design right now – the driverless car. “[There are] four levels of automation,” he says. “We’re between levels one and two – with four being fully automated – where some cars today are partially autonomous, with adaptive cruise control that will allow the car to keep a certain distance from the car in front of you, and it will brake and come to a complete stop if necessary. Also being able to self-park – you’re still in the car controlling it, but it’s a level of autonomy.

“And then you start layering on car-sharing, or working with cities,” he continues. “The city can also be a customer, from a standpoint of being able to provide parking solutions. You can digitally wire to telegraph where parking places exist. There have been studies done of how much time and energy is wasted on just trying to find parking places in highly urban areas – even on the economy where it’s burning fossil fuels just trying to find a parking space.”

A light installation by Ford, curated by architect Attilio Stocchi, displayed in Milan


Ford has recently opened a new research facility in Palo Alto, which operates alongside its labs in Germany, the USA and the UK to help develop technologies best suited to its customers. “I don’t think Ford has to be at the bleeding edge,” says Piaskowski of the company’s position on the use of new technology in its vehicles. “[But] having a point of view on where we as a company want to go is part of the equation. It’s not necessarily most important to be the first one to market, but the one with the most appropriate solutions at the right time. Sometimes, if you’re too early, it’s not relevant. But if you’re too late, you’re Johnny-come-lately.”

The Salone del Mobile continues in Milan until April 19

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