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Ford Ranger: form follows function

Workhorse: Ford Ranger designers were inspired by power tools and protective sportswear.

Scoring class-best cabin space in tough but modern package determined Ford T6 design

18 Oct 2010

ACHIEVING a balance between the toughness of an F150 truck and the Kinetic design language of contemporary Fords such as the Fiesta and Mondeo was the biggest challenge facing the design team behind the T6 Ranger.

Larger in every direction than its ageing Mazda Bravo-based predecessor, Ford’s new one-tonne truck was designed at Broadmeadows and overseen by American Craig Metros, a 24-year Ford veteran who worked on the 1996 Jaguar XK, Ford F150, Ford Escape and even some Mazdas.

However, while there was a Mazda team also based at Ford’s Australian headquarters creating the BT-50 version, the two brands worked independently, if not separately.

27 center imageLeft: Ford Ranger. Below: Ford Ranger chief designer Craig Metros, Ford Asia Pacific and Africa director of design Christopher Svensson.

“We worked together,” Mr Metros said. “We knew what they were doing.

“Like Ford, Mazda had a clear strategy. We were working with similar engineering information, but from a design standpoint we basically worked separately. Everything you can see is unique.”

Externally, only the windscreen is shared with the BT-50, although much of the underpinnings are common between the one-tonne cousins.

The recently installed director of design for Ford Asia Pacific and Africa, Christopher Svensson, said Ford’s design modus operandi incorporates a ‘pre-design’ phase that involves indentifying the target audience and spending as much time with them to ascertain their needs, wants and desires, even before a pen touches paper.

“We have a pre-program start, which is a lot of designers attending events with the customer, living with the customer, going to work with the customer, driving with the customer, using the product with the customer,” said Mr Svensson.

“It’s to ascertain what they want and what they expect from the next-generation vehicle. And that’s really important for us to understand that.”

While Mr Svensson agreed that Ford does keep an eye on competition like the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton, they did not want to copy them.

Commencing three and a half years ago, the styling took about 18 months to go from sketch to design freeze.

Ford aimed to impart “a powerful stance and confident proportions” for a “21st century tough character” – a brief that required a balancing act between American F150 aggression and the softer organic lines of the Ranger’s mainly Asian competitors.

“With the F150, the design is really geometrical, almost grid-like we tried to break that with the Ranger, to make it a bit more fluid and, well, almost organic,” said Mr Metros.

One of the most important elements to get right was the grille, which brandishes Ford’s trademark three-bar truck ‘face’, but set against the modernity of a clamshell bonnet, chamfered headlights and integrated flared wheel arches.

“The three-bar grille was chosen because of its tough look it resonated well with customers. With trucks in general, it’s the face (that matters) it has a lot to do with proportions. We did a lot of investigations with customers… and anything that was proportionally too close to a car just didn’t resonate.”

Aerodynamics played a big role in the small detailing and the steeply raked windscreen was pivotal to Ford’s goal of creating a truck that looks like it is on the move.

A pick-up is about the box out back and buyers in this segment demand practicality and capacity efficiency, according to Mr Metros, so going for a regular square design with high walls (possible via the extension of the cabin’s shoulder-line up-kink) was a no-brainer.

“The box really dictates everything,” he said. “It’s a pick-up truck (after all), so the box is a standard sizing you can work around and pretty much sets up the cab.

“We were going after best-in-class packaging with the cab, and some of those hard parameters were almost set, so we just worked on the details.”

Mr Metros said customer clinics showed that people didn’t like curvier rear box designs such as the one found on the Triton.

“They didn’t get it they would see this curved box and think that it didn’t have the capability of a box like the Ranger’s.”

There was more freedom available creating the interior, but Ford was not interested in emulating a passenger car’s interior, despite the desire to infuse the feeling of functionality, quality, style and comfort.

The company looked beyond the automotive industry for inspiration, and Mr Metros name-checks DeWalt and Bosch power tools and the Casio G-Shock watch as influences, which is clearly visible in the cladding-like casing themes that feature throughout the dash and other interior elements.

“We also looked at body armour for motocross and snowboard boots as influences and inspiration for the way other products handle surface development, handle graphics, handle the layout of switches and other functional bits,” Mr Metros added.

Ford APA interior design manager Peter Jones said the overall look of the cabin revealed a subtle psychological effect leveraging trusted items from other industries within an automotive context.

“The real-world perception of what those products represent is important,” said Mr Jones. “You don’t want a power tool that is going to fail – it needs to look like it’s going to do the job – and I think that’s what we’ve delivered with Ranger.

“From all of the research that we have done, we know that customers still want a truck. But they want car comfort, car quality and car features. And they’re the things that we have delivered.”

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