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On the '09 F-150: Pat Schiavone

On the morning of Sunday, January 13, 2008, the 2009 Ford F-150 was given its public introduction at the North American International Auto Show. The 2009 Dodge Ram was introduced within the same hour. Two big intros in the context of Detroit-"Detroit" as in the auto show; "Detroit" as in the domestic vehicle manufacturers. Later that day we sat down with Patrick Schiavone, design director, Ford Trucks and SUVs, to get his views on how he felt about the '09 F-150, especially in light of the other new truck in Cobo Center. Here's what we learned . . .

On the front. "I didn't realize how big of a change we made to the front end. I'm surprised we took it as far as we did. It's a little bit risky. We really changed the DNA of the front end of our truck. We changed it from F-150 to be more like a Super Duty. If you think about that as a design decision, that was a big change to make. We have the number-one best-selling vehicle in history. Why would you walk away from your DNA?"

When I stood back from the current F-150, I said I wished I'd made the front end look tougher on it."

"It took until today and seeing the Ram to say that we really moved the needle on this one-more than had occurred to me."

On comfort &customers. "I've learned that if something in the studio becomes comfortable to me and the team, I know that customers are going to come along. I learned this with the current Super Duty. When we dropped the front lamps, we were having a hard time with it in the studio. But by the time we got it ready for production, I couldn't see it any other way. And that's the way I see this one, too. I know that if I've done my job right, and that my team has, if we execute properly, and that it looks right to me when we're done, I have full confidence that my customers will come along. That's not to mean I'm not listening to what they're saying, I'm exactly listening to what they're saying-I'm deep-listening to what they're saying. They're saying a Ford truck needs to be tough and rugged-'But don't change it.' It's the 'don't change it' that I'm not listening to."

"A whole team of designers have lived this thing. Some of us have done three generations of trucks-we've had a lot of practice. We also have an understanding of how much change we can make in the design and still be successful with our customers. Because if you simply just go in and listen to what they tell you, they'll tell you 'Don't make that big of a change.'"

On the inside. "The current Super Duty interior is like a beautiful industrial kitchen-stainless steel appliances, and luxury like wood and granite. But we couldn't have done that unless we did the interior of the current F-150 first. And when I do a critical analysis of the current F-150 interior, it is the same thing: I wish we were a little bit tougher, a little bit more bold, a little bit more constructive. And that's what we set out to do. The other part we learned about is refinement. The sections look like they're wrapped in foam and leather, even if it is a plastic part. We learned how to execute."

On the '09 F-150. "I have no doubt in my mind that people are going to love this truck, that it is going to be the classic F-150. This one will ultimately be loved more than the current truck by our customers because I know how I felt about the last one, and my team and I did it."

"At the end of the day, a designer always wants to feel like he's pushed the envelope. And I feel like I've pushed the envelope more than I realized."-interview conducted, condensed &edited by GSV