Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ford Flex Friday - Time For Mom's to Dump That Design-Challenged Minivan!

Just to remind folks: This is a disclaimer that absolutely NO ONE is paying me to do this series on the Ford Flex. It's a brave attempt to bring as much attention to the vehicle so someone at Ford feels sorry for me, or thinks I'm a genius and offers me a free car. I have dreams - they may be crazy - but one's gotta try!

"Ring, ring!"


"HI! This is the 90's. We're just calling cause we want our MiniVans back!"

"Where would you like me to park that sucker?"

If the majority of the car companies haven't noticed, they should take note:

The era of the minivan is so over as we know it!

For the first time in a long time, Ford™ has finally pulled ahead on a concept car that in my humble opinion, will be a leader for "coolness" in a family car. We moms know that sometimes our personal upkeep gets put waaaaay in the back of the line after the hubs, the kids, the dogs/cats/birds/several reptiles lost in the house, the laundry, a shower once a month, etc.

We desperately NEED/WANT something in our lives that maintains that level of "I look like I STILL have it all together whether or not the inside of my house looks like a train wreck and I look like I've been in it!".

I come from a family with a long lineage of Ford cars. After my 1989 Ford Mustang, I kinda got bored with Ford, which sounds a little like the title of a country and western song if you say it with a twang! I switched to Honda's, whereas my brother and father stayed loyal with Ford. That is until my father couldn't differentiate a nickel from a quarter, or whether the signal lights were green or red. We took his keys and sold his Mustang and now he gets chauffeured around in my brothers Ford Freestyle.

Today, Ford has finally turned 21st Century! The Ford Flex is exactly the car I've been whining to the hubs about that I wished someone, ANYONE would make. It's a crossover vehicle, which basically means that it acts like a minivan, but looks absolutely nothing like one. Automatic sliding doors are so passe', and driving in what resembles a speeding bullet is no longer a fashion statement!

I don't know about you, but the thought I've heaving my butt into another stone-age designed minivan in order to haul my kids and me around, is enough to make me burn the license, cancel the car insurance, and purchase a pimped out pink golf cart instead to ride around this town I live in that has practically NO public transportation.

That is unless you count the trolley car that shows up around here once a week if you're lucky enough to run for it as its passing you by!

**DING** **DING**

Run..... Pant, Pant.... Fall Down..... Bleed!

Curse the Minivan Gods!

Let's talk design for a moment. Anyone out there know the design history of the Ford Flex? Well... besides the company itself, a few car mags, and a few review sites on the web, not very many know how this car came about.

Well I'm about to tell you!

"Well listen to a story 'bout a man named Jeb....."

Oops! Wrong story..... let me get the right book here and it's about a man named Richard Gresens.

Richard Gresens, whom I consider the father of the Flex, studied at Detroit's College for Creative Studies. He grew up influenced by the look of the streamlined trains where is grandfather worked at Union Pacific in the 60's1.

"To me it's all about scale and motion... I have never liked static things." Gresens was quoted as saying.

I love him already!

Even though designing cars was not on the top of his list in regards to career choices, he did find himself drawing quite a bit of them during his high school years; along with those trains and planes as well. After he started CCS, he signed up for the transportation program there and eventually graduated in 1986 with a BFA in Industrial Design.

After a stint overseas heading up the design for the Volkswagen Futura (where his relationship with Ford started), and with Horlacher, designing the Consequento city car, the man headed back to the U.S. and eventually started peddling those Saabs as a car salesman.

This is where he really became the man I admire. It was his experience selling cars that gave him "insight into what people were buying and willing to pay for" he was quoted as saying. He learned it was about what people wanted instead of putting useless bells and whistles on a car just to make it look good.

I just love this man! "Mr. Gresens, can I kiss your feet now?"

He finally came to Ford in 2000 where he worked on both the Ford 500 sedan and the Mercury Mariner CUV, then ultimately....... the Ford Flex!


The Ford Flex was born, essentially, from the minivan; believe it or not! First there was the Windstar, which turned into the Freestar, then metamorphed into the Ford Flex. It was unveiled at the 2007 New York International Auto Show and touted as a Ford Fairlane-based Concept car4;,which completely confuses the crap out of me because if you compare photos; I may be stupid, but I cannot see the resemblance.

It was also compared to a Mini Clubman. Again, ??????

I think they were all way off because the first time I saw a Ford Flex, I instantly thought of the original 1946 Ford Super Deluxe; a.k.a., a "Woodie".

You choose for yourself, but as for me, I'm still going with the "Woodie" concept.

I think I sent psychic energy in Ford's direction because they did manage to slap a "Woody" design in on us, but to be completely stinking honest here - I don't think they should have gone there! That's one of those designs that should be best left with those tacky station wagons our fathers use to drive us around in back in the 70's that had faux wood on the sides. Thank God peer pressure was not as prevalent then!

They had great moon roofs though!

When Gresens first feedback on the Ford Flex was received, it was compared to a "breadbox" (??).

Put wheels on this sucker and can understand their perception of the design, LOL!

Now mothers can totally relate to since we feel we already live in one because of constantly hungry feeding kids, which means there is an endless supply of All Vitamins and Minerals included wheat bread in our own bread boxes! But it was cool with him because he wanted a design that was "unique and elicit strong emotions". He eventually won over his critics at Ford because the designed Flexed-On! No Mayo included!

Good job Mr. Gresens - good job! Does anyone know if this guy is married?

What is also interesting is where his design ideas for the Flex derived from. I strongly believe now that it is important to understand the car in terms of where it came from and not just who scientifically "birthed" it cause a car is kinda like a child in terms of the way we take care of them; and if we could rock that sucker at night - we would! If your "child" is anything like my 2001 Honda Odyssey though, it's time for a professional car psychologist cause THAT van has some serious issues going on with it! Frankly, I thinks it's prime for an Exorcism!

Anyway... back to my story here:

Mr. Gresens sought ideas from all places.... a 1955 Electroux LX Vacuum Cleaner for the door panel design!1 That's right, I'm gonna be driving a car one day that looks like that thing that sucks the piled-high dirt off my kids floors! I'm glad it doesn't resemble anything like a mom riding on a witches broom which is what I feel like sometimes with these kids in the car arguing over who sits where and what stinking Barbie video is, or is not, going to get played!

How better to relate to a modern mom!

And we are SO glad that it didn't turn out looking like this:

Besides his influences from trains as a kid, his own drawings, a clever little vacuum cleaner, Mr. Gresens also derived design ideas from his love of the appliances during the Art Deco era.

This man MUST be my soul mate somehow, cause this is my favorite design era myself!

The four horizontal grooves you see in the body side were considered by him, "the critical design element for the vehicle to convey motion". When removed at one point during the design, the character of the car became lost. The reason the sheet metal is "wrapped" under the sill of the door was to end the challenge to the cars access to tight parking spots.

What a genius!

The interior was focused on creating a "quiet horizon" so that everything felt more open and palatial.

Have you checked out that Multi-Panel Vista Roof™?

So if you read up on the history of this car, it's full of some fascinating facts that are both past meets present. It's design has made such an impact that it the 2009 model has already been singled out as a "Collectible Vehicle of the Future", according to the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC)3.

Mr. Gresens, as of this writing, is now working as Principal Designer for Whirlpool Corporation2. I guess he's going back to designing Art Deco-styled appliances. Since he has designed one of the coolest vehicles in recent history for us mom's to be seen driving around in, I wonder what he'll come up with for Whirlpool.

If he can design a washer and dryer that can do my family's laundry in under 15 minutes, fold it, and "magically" put it away - I'm laying some big bucks down for those components!

As for as design goes for the Ford Flex, I HIGHLY recommend this car for moms because it has the space we need to stuff practically every toy our kid wants to bring on a trip to the grocery store, and it has an intense cool factor as well. It's very nostalgic without going over-the-top like a PT Cruiser. Plus, it's a car that your kids won't be humiliated in when driving them to school. They may actually ask you if you'd pull right up to the front. I know, I've already done a survey with my own four! They give it extra thumbs-up value!

So if I haven't convinced you moms out there yet to go down and get one of these cars, just wait cause I'm done with this series yet!

Next we'll talk.... Marketing!


Where I got all this fascinating info:

1. Automotive Design & Production, Kevin M. Kelly, June 2008; "Richard Gresens: from trains, planes and... vacuum cleaners: the designer of the Ford Flex finds influence in some unexpected places.

2. Linked in; Richard Gresens Resume'

3. Media.Ford.Com; "Ford Flex Singled Out for the 2009 'Collectible Vehicle of the Future' Award from the Friends of the National Automotive History Collection (NAHC)"'

4.; "Ford Flex" Reviews.