Ford unveiled the Start Concept today at the Beijing International Auto Show. This marks Ford’s first concept car in over three years and its simple design addresses the growing problems we have with fuel efficiency, traffic congestion, and parking space. "Our ambition with the Ford Start Concept was to design a car that goes beyond the practical realities of commuting in these mega cities, to go beyond just dressing the technology. We wanted to design a car you would also love," explained Freeman Thomas, Design Director, Ford Motor Company.
The Start Concept is powered by a 1.0-liter Ford EcoBoost engine that delivers the same amount of power and torque as a normally-aspirated I-4 powerplant. This engine is coupled with a six-speed manual transmission which permits gear spacing to deliver performance without sacrificing fuel economy.
The concepts gets a smooth exterior shell constructed with lightweight composite body panels that snap-fit on an aluminum structure. "With the Ford Start Concept, we didn’t set out to design some sort of utilitarian concept to save the world, nor were we interested in following the competitive trend toward an overly noisy design language. What we did set out to do was design a personality driven car that exudes warmth, charm and aspiration…to design a car worth bonding with," said J Mays, Group Vice President Design and Chief Creative Officer, Ford Motor Company.
This concept reminds us of a little beetle big, although not of the Volkswagen variety. Simply put, the car can be described as cute which may lead to a hard sell for the more masculine portion of our urban community. It’s not ideal for passengers either. Sorry kids, mommy has to save on gas. All kidding aside, we do think this is a great combination of fuel efficiency and simplistic design. We also see how this attractive car could appeal to the masses. Ford may be on to something and the possibility of this concept’s engine transferring over to Ford’s smaller vehicles like the Fiesta and the Focus, is something we can see happening. We have to wonder what this will do to the likes of Chevrolet. Do we see a slightly modified Chevy Cruze or Eco in our future?
Just how far can you take the basic idea of transportation and simplicity and still deliver an aspirational automobile designed for urban transportation in emerging markets?
For the global design team at the Ford Strategic Concepts Group in Irvine, Calif., it began with taking a step back, reflecting on the complexity and noise in the world around us.
"In an era of constant visual noise, we have created a car that conveys visual purity and harmony, in which every line has meaning and purpose. The Ford Start delivers a dynamic, personality driven design that stays true to the global Ford brand," said J Mays, group vice president, Design, and chief creative officer.
The Ford Start Concept showcases a future 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder petrol engine which reinforces Ford’s ’fun to drive’ DNA. This engine will provide the power and drivability comparable to a larger I4 engine while delivering a CO2 rating under 100 g/km. This smallest-yet EcoBoost engine will go into production in the near future.
The overall design philosophy for the Ford Start Concept was one of making music, not noise. It started with studying the key attributes that contribute to an endearing quality which modern small cars rarely deliver. The design team brought some inspirational vehicles into the studio to study the attributes that draw people to them, including an original Porsche 356 Speedster and an Alfa Romeo Zagato SZ.
With early sports cars and transportation in general, simplicity and purpose often was the key. Proportions, stance, silhouette, efficiency and a singular focus on what is really necessary for the driver were priorities – without sacrificing the fun and freedom that driving brought.
"The concept of simplicity can be found all around us," Mays explains. "Endearing designs in architecture, home furnishings, appliances, transportation, or even a good screenplay are often similar in one respect – simplicity. Our vision was to look at a small car holistically, like slicing through an onion where every layer gave meaning, function, and substance to the next. As in nature, taking this approach creates beautiful, endearing objects."
"As a team, we engaged in a philosophical discussion that yielded a common vision. To create a beautiful object that spoke to us emotionally as well as intellectually", explains Freeman Thomas, design director. "The exterior design is simple with purposeful proportions and refined surface language normally found on vehicles in premium segments."
The design team went through a variety of emotional iterations of front end designs to find the right balance and expression.
The team’s objective with the Ford Start Concept was to step back and ask what is really necessary. The result is that there is not a line the design team would wish to add or take away. The vehicle’s sculptural exterior takes into consideration efficient aerodynamics, from the front fascia, to the flush upper body design elements, and full underbody tray.
Exterior design elements were deliberately kept simple, functional, and consistent. The cars minimalistic approach extends through all of the design details around the car.
The interior compliments the direction of the exterior. It has been designed to be pure, tactile analog experience. The Start Concept interior was designed to evoke passion and driving excitement with the feeling one would expect from a more premium segment.
"The cockpit is about being the right size with everything you need in the right place,’’ Mays emphasizes. "We concentrated on providing only the information the driver really finds necessary. Great visibility was a major priority as well as driver control and passenger safety and space."
An additional feature of the interior is "MyFord Mobile Concept," a conceptual look into how to leverage smart phone interface with the popularity of personalized "apps".
While the construction is simple and the number of parts was reduced, the execution of the front bucket seats results in a design that is not only form fitting but communicates an upscale, premium look. By integrating an ergonomically correct comfort curve and the optimal driving position, the seats were able to be thin and comfortable.
With snap-fitting inserts, the seat material and color allows for easy customization by the owner. The direction was to add to the purity and philosophy of the rest of the car by creating signature seating and headliner treatments that are unique. That uniqueness and purity extends to every area of the Ford Start Concept.
The Ford Start Concept also offers a personal trunk compartment. The trunk saves weight, gives more room to the rear passengers and provides a secure place for possessions.
Beyond basic transportation however, the Ford Start Concept is a case study and offers a glimpse into what is possible. The innovative hybrid aluminum/high strength steel body construction features a lightweight aluminum safety cell, which provides a rigid structure for the glass and roof to attach and houses side curtain airbags for additional occupant safety.
All exterior body panels are made from deformable, pre-colored recyclable composites. Natural sisal fiber is used to form the interior panels. The pressed aluminum wheels are mated with Michelin Green X tires featuring low rolling resistance and lightweight construction.
The holistic design approach – considering advances in the drivetrain, materials, and clever construction – demonstrates that a weight savings of 140 kilogrammes is possible.
"Start may be an advanced concept, but with its EcoBoost engine and strategic use of materials, it still delivers the fun we had driving our very first cars," says Thomas.
"The Ford Start Concept is the first pure concept we’ve developed under our ’One Ford’ approach," says Moray Callum, executive director, Americas Design. "J Mays, Martin Smith and I worked with Freeman and his team to deliver a concept that visually reinforces the fun to drive element that is at the core of the Ford brand DNA."
FORD START CONCEPT PREVIEWS EXPANDING ECOBOOST RANGE WITH ALL-NEW, THREE-CYLINDER 1.0-LITRE ENGINE
- New three-cylinder Ford EcoBoost petrol engine supports the company’s future philosophy of more power for less fuel
- 1.0-litre Ford EcoBoost I3 will deliver comparable power and torque to a larger I4 engine combined with exceptional fuel economy for a petrol engine
- Anticipated CO2 emissions to be less than 100g/km
- Latest addition to the advanced Ford EcoBoost engine family will bring affordable and powerful technology to a mainstream vehicle lineup