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Designer Wolff headed home

Bound for home: Former Holden designer Max Wolff will work at crosstown rival Ford Australia.

Senior Lincoln designer Max Wolff heading to Ford Australia on a mystery mission

17 Nov 2015

HIGHLY credentialed Australian car designer Max Wolff is believed to be heading home from Detroit to Australia to take up a position with Ford in Melbourne, perhaps signalling the start of a new major model development program at Ford Asia Pacific.

Mr Wolff is currently the head of exterior design for Ford’s luxury brand Lincoln, but his new role in Australia is yet to be spelled out.

And although the role will undoubtedly be senior, Mr Wolff is not necessarily directly replacing current Ford Asia Pacific design director Todd Willing.

Considering the spread of new models under development in Australia, he might even remain in the Lincoln fold, perhaps heading a team working on a future model out of the Campbellfield studios.

It would not be the first Lincoln work done in Australia. As GoAuto reported exclusively last year, a Ford Fusion test mule with a significantly widened rear track was spotted being tested on Ford’s You Yangs proving ground in Victoria, with our sources suggesting it was a test bed for a new Lincoln being developed on Ford’s D4.3 large-car architecture.

Ford Australia declined to discuss the Wolff rumour, saying it does not comment on future staff movements.

A former General Motors designer with stints at Holden, GM Daewoo and Cadillac before moving to Lincoln, Mr Wolf, 43, has spent almost a decade working in Detroit.

For the past two years, Mr Wolff has been largely out of the limelight after being shifted from his previous role as Lincoln design director to the head of exterior design.

The shift, which was not formally announced by Dearborn, was seen by pundits as a demotion, as he ended up reporting to his successor.

However, Mr Wolff has stuck with the task, helping to bring the latest new-generation Lincoln vehicles to market. These have included the MKC – Lincoln’s first compact SUV – and redesigned Navigator SUV flagship.

In late 2010, Mr Wolff was poached from rival Cadillac where he was design director – a move that was seen as controversial in Detroit where such cross-town moves among senior personnel raise eyebrows.

Mr Wolff’s defection was seen as a coup for Ford, which has been trying to reinvent Lincoln as a vibrant global luxury brand in a $1 billion overhaul.

While at Lincoln, he also oversaw the opening of a new design studio with facilities for the latest design techniques.

By moving back to Australia, Mr Wolff will find himself in competition with his former colleagues at GM Australia Design, including his mentor in his GM days, Michael Simcoe.

The careers of Mr Wolff and Mr Simcoe were closely aligned at GM, with Mr Wolff frequently reporting to Mr Simcoe as they worked in a variety of GM design operations around the world.

Mr Wolff’s career and association with Mr Simcoe – now GM International Operations design executive director – started at Holden in 1998 after Mr Wolff graduated from Melbourne’s Monash University in 1997.

While at Holden, Mr Wolff applied his design skills to vehicles such as the 2002 Holden SSX sports hatch concept – Holden’s first attempt at an all-wheel-drive performance road car – the 2002 HRT 427 super-coupe from Holden Special Vehicles, the 2004 Elfin Clubman MS8 track racer and the 2004 Holden Torana TT36 concept.

Transferred to GM Daewoo’s design studio in Incheon, South Korea, in May 2004 as deputy director of advanced design (under Simcoe), Mr Wolff’s influence is reflected in models such as the 2005 Daewoo T2X and 2007 Chevrolet Trax concepts, the Chevrolet/Holden Cruze sedan, Captiva SUV, Barina Spark and Barina/Aveo.

In South Korea, Mr Wolff was named GM design director for global small cars, before being asked to go to Detroit as Cadillac design director in September 2007.

One of the first major models launched during his Caddie tenure was the mid-sized MKZ sedan.

It is unclear when Mr Wolff is destined to return to Australia, but when he does, he will join Australia’s biggest vehicle development operation, with about 1500 designers, engineers and technicians working on multiple vehicles for global markets.

These include the next-generation Ranger ute and its SUV spin-off, the Everest, as well as a Fiesta-based light car for developing markets.

Someone of Mr Wolff’s experience arriving at Campbellfield suggests the Australian design operation is just about to get bigger.

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