Freeman Thomas won his first drawing competition in the first grade—it was a fire truck. Today, Thomas is credited with delivering some of the hottest designs in the automotive industry. A pioneer in his field, he has designed everything from the New Beetle to the Audi TT, and he’s been steering Ford’s Strategic Design department as Director since 2005. In anticipation of our ‘Design with a Conscience’ webcast—a thought-provoking event, which brought together visionary California architects and automotive designers eager to talk about the intersection of car and building design—we asked Mr. Thomas to answer few questions for us about the future of car design, as well as some of the things that inspire his work. Read on to hear what he had to say, and then find out what was discussed in the webcast here.
INHABITAT: How did you get your start in automotive design?
Thomas: I have been designing and sketching cars since I was nine years old. After high school I went directly to the U.S. Air Force (much of it in Europe) not really knowing what I wanted to do, only that I was passionate about cars and cultures. After I got out of the Air Force, I happened upon an interview in a magazine talking about the Art Center College of Design. After reading that article I knew that’s what I was destined for!
INHABITAT: How did you find yourself at Ford Motors?
Thomas: I always loved Ford growing up. I had worked with J Mays twice before. We were always a powerful team. Three times is a charm!
INHABITAT: While there is great interest in electric vehicles, the percentage of people who actually pursue purchasing these vehicles remains incredibly small. What do you think needs to change to start to making EVs something people want?
INHABITAT: Are there any vehicles that have had a particular impact on you or influenced your design style?
Thomas: VW Beetle and the early Porsches.
INHABITAT: Are there any designers you look up to in the auto industry or in other design disciplines? Who is your favorite architect and why?
Thomas: For me it was Erwin Komenda as a designer/engineer; Burt Rutan, Kelly Johnson in aerospace. As for architect: Frank Lloyd Wright. He was architecturally-forward and timeless with his vision—he challenged the status quo.
INHABITAT: You’ve designed some modern auto icons—including the new Beetle and Audi TT—what qualities make a vehicle a hit with the public?
Thomas: Simplicity, charisma, being endearing, common sense, and a timeless design.
INHABITAT: What do you drive?
Thomas: I’m a car guy! I have a Ford Escape with Ecoboost for most days. On other days I love to drive my 356A, my early 911, or my ’72 Dino GT. It all depends on my mood, what road, how far, and who’s with me.
INHABITAT: What would your dream car be?
Thomas: Any car associated with Steve McQueen!
INHABITAT: What are you most excited about these days in the world of auto design?
Thomas: The opportunity to challenge the status quo.
INHABITAT: What do you think architecture and auto design can learn from each other?