Interview: Kemal Curic, Chief Designer, Lincoln Motor Car Company
Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kemal Curic grew up in Croatia, then in Germany, dreaming not of high-zoot Teutonic cruisers but of American Mustangs. "Growing up in Europe, we aspired to something like a Ford Mustang. Just seeing one on the road was unbelievable, like seeing a unicorn. And to hear that 5.0L V-8, it gave you goosebumps."
As a kid, he drew cars in his notebooks, which sometimes got him in trouble at school and concerned his parents. "They want you to be successful," he says, "and they did not know car designer jobs existed. When I discovered I could actually make this passion my job, I felt that becoming someone who creates such vehicles would be pursuing my dream."
So he went to Bergische Universit t Wuppertal in Wuppertal, Germany and earned a bachelor's degree in industrial design and a master's in transportation design. After graduating in 2003, he scored a job at Ford of Germany. "Ford was such a unique opportunity for me, so international. I really needed to be at Ford," he says.
Kemal worked on the European-market Ford Fiesta, Mondeo, and Kuga before moving in 2010 to Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, to work as lead designer and later as manager on his childhood dream car: the 2015 Mustang. Then he transitioned to the Lincoln side in 2013 as exterior design manager for the 2017 Continental luxury sedan. After that came exterior leadership of the 2020 Lincoln Aviator midsize SUV and the 2020 Corsair compact CUV.
Truck Trend: You have said that aircraft design inspired the Aviator's look.
Kemal Curic: I had a big passion for airplanes and flying and actually wanted to be a pilot. That didn't work out, but it has worked out that I can create this Aviator, taking inspiration from aircraft. The name alone inspired our team to think differently. It was a very important aspect.
TT: What was the biggest challenge of its design?
KC: It was not so much challenging, but exciting, to work on a veteran team to create this beautiful sculpture. The challenge was how far could we take it. We really wanted to dial in the aspects of human sanctuary and beauty to create this very cohesive look in both exterior and interior, and I truly believe we nailed it.
TT: What unique elements separate it from so many others in the segment?
KC: We focus on the journey and beauty in all our vehicles, starting with the Continental, when we introduced the new Lincoln signature grille, which we call a "crown." If you think about the "sanctuary" concept for our interior, you're going to be amazed at how quiet it is, that you're able to enjoy your music and conversation without having to raise your voice. That is one unique element. Also, the very commanding gesture, downward toward the back, which we want to convey with all our vehicles, is unique to Lincoln and very elegant—not aggressive.
TT: What do you mean by "gesture"?
KC: Gesture means the presence, the stance, the attitude of the vehicle, whether sitting on the road or driving. This is the anti-wedge, which is very elegant. If you think about cars of the 1960s, they had that exuberant attitude with more anti-wedge than most vehicles today. Think about the angle of attack of an airplane. You have this gliding gesture, sort of leaning back. The anti-wedge, a teardrop shape, is also the most optimized shape for aerodynamics.
TT: Engineering priorities sometimes conflict with design priorities. Did you have any issues that made it difficult to resolve conflicting priorities?
KC: This was one of the best programs I've worked on in terms of knowing and understanding the customer, focusing on human-centric design, and working very closely with the engineers. It was a close collaboration between design and engineering because we wanted to express their achievement in our design execution. The rear-wheel-drive architecture enabled us to create beautiful proportions and sculpturing on this vehicle: very elegant, not bulky looking. There was a strong vision of "quiet flight," and everyone was guided by that.
TT: Was it heavily influenced by customer research?
KC: Absolutely. Everything about the way it feels, the way it smells, the way you touch it, came from customers giving us really great feedback. Like with the Navigator, it was finding all those things the customers really love and adding even more to the Aviator. We have created this user journey; from the moment they walk up to their vehicles, they are relaxed and rejuvenated and will enjoy flying in style.
TT: You also oversaw the exterior of the Corsair, which is more car-like in appearance.
KC: When you see the all-new Corsair on the road, the first impression you get is how fluid and sculptural it is. We really wanted to emphasize the theme that it is rolling art, and we put a lot of effort into dialing in the human factors. It is a very warm and human, quiet, expressive sculpture. We focused on every single detail, and I believe we created a very sophisticated and luxurious small SUV.
TT: Its Ford counterpart, the new Escape, is also more car-like. Is there a feeling that people will appreciate it looking more like a car than an SUV in the compact segment?
KC: Customers told us they wanted something more CUV-like, and obviously we can do both for being in the urban space as well as being a small SUV.
TT: Any difficult challenges, headaches or conflicts with engineering on that design?
KC: No headaches. But think about the name. I truly believe that when you give a great name like Corsair—which derives from Latin, meaning journey—to the design team, it gives us a unique opportunity to engage with a more youthful audience. We felt the small premium activity segment is very strong, and we really wanted to aim at female buyers for this vehicle. And because it is a small package, it gave us more freedom to be more expressive and youthful and to create things that are really amazing.