Lincoln design director Max Wolff faces a challenge. The American brand once represented the pinnacle of automotive luxury. Today, Lincoln—a part of Ford Motor Company—is reinventing itself in order to remain relevant in a rapidly evolving marketplace. Luxury-car buyers have become more culturally progressive than their predecessors and more open-minded, according to Wolff. Such attitudes affect tastes in automobiles and therefore should influence the designs.
Wolff is responsible for designing four all-new Lincoln vehicles, including the MKZ, which the brand introduced late last year. The remaining three will be released over the next three years. The MKZ departs from traditional luxury-car design by favoring restrained—yet still distinctive—shapes over complex ones. This subtle approach lends a genuine warmth and richness.
Prior to joining Lincoln, Wolff spent 13 years with General Motors, where he led Cadillac into the 21st century with that brand’s Art and Science design vocabulary. Here, he discusses where he is taking Lincoln in the next three years and beyond.
Ross: Is it possible to define a distinctly American design aesthetic that applies to the new Lincoln automobiles?
Wolff: Whatever we do, we are an American luxury brand. But we want to be seen as a modern luxury brand. You can see how this works in fashion. Designers Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs have brought an American look into their aesthetic. We also see this in cooking. American cooking is respected on a global scale, but it provides a uniquely American twist.
Ross: How are you going to position Lincoln against its competition?
Wolff: Our plans are rooted in the customer we are after. That luxury customer has changed dramatically—particularly because of the recessionary times—and we want to take advantage of that. The product itself is important, and it must be at a high level of quality. But the quality of the overall experience for the customer—with the dealerships and throughout ownership of the car—is every bit as important to the brand’s success. The experiences we provide before and after the purchase are as critical as the car itself.
Ross: What are the outside factors that most influence your designs?
Wolff: My greatest inspiration comes from the team we have established in Lincoln’s design department. They all bring a global perspective and sensibilities from outside automotive that influence them and thereby influence all of us as we address the needs of this new customer. It’s a combined influence from fashion, music, furniture, architecture, as well as technologies and new materials. All these inputs give us the greatest opportunity to reimagine a great American luxury marque.