VOICE-OVER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
RITHOLTZ: This week on the podcast I have an extra special guest, Paul Wraith, Chief Designer at Ford and the man in-charge of the new 2021 Ford Bronco, an icon in the history of automobiles and a legendary car. This was quite a responsibility to come out with something that was so heavily anticipated and so long-awaited. And if you haven’t seen the new Ford Bronco, I suggest you go online and check it out.
They very much hit a bull’s-eye. The car looks great. Its capabilities as an off-road sports utility vehicle are just astonishing. They managed to bring in the base version under $30,000. I don’t want to sound like I’m doing a commercial for Ford. And I’m a car guy, not a truck guy. , but I have to tell you I’m really impressed with the way the truck came out, so impressed that I managed to track pull down at Ford and say, “Hey, come on the show and let’s talk about the process of creating a brand new vehicle like this.” I found a conversation absolutely fascinating, and I think you will also.
So with no further ado, my conversation with the Chief Designer at Ford, Paul Wraith.
VOICE-OVER: This is Masters in Business with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
RITHOLTZ: My special guest this week is Paul Wraith. He is the Chief Designer for the brand new Ford Bronco. Previously, he was Chief Designer for Ford. He earned his Master’s Degree in Vehicle Design from the Royal College of Art.
Paul Wraith, welcome to Bloomberg.
WRAITH: Well, thanks for having me.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s start with the Bronco briefly. Congratulations are in order. As soon as you guys announced reservations for the first addition, the trucks sold out overnight. We’re going to spend more time talking about the Bronco, but let’s talk a little bit about your career. What sort of path does one have to go on to become a car designer?
WRAITH: I — I think myself and all of my friends who are car designers colleagues. I think we all have this little infatuation with the car or the truck from — to the year (inaudible). And I think typically our first words were probably “car,” and then we would have been the little kids in the back of the classroom somewhere scribbling pictures of cars into the — into our textbooks when we were at school. And it sort of stuck with us really.
It’s — it’s a sort of compulsion. And, unfortunately, some of us are able to get places in design school to develop our skills and, you know, to a degree and master’s degrees. And then some of us — and some of that have been lucky enough to get positions in the industry and — and — and do what we were doing as children as a — as a day job, which is, well, it’s amazing really, great fun.
RITHOLTZ: So you’ve been with Ford for about 20 years. In 2016, you were appointed Chief Designer for Ford. Tell us what that role encompasses.
WRAITH: Chief Designer means that essentially I got more toys to play with. I have a large team around me of very, very talented people. And it’s a — it got us positioned, want to use your — your point of view and your experience to, you know, apply to — across a much more broad body of work. And it’s — you know, it’s some exciting challenge. It’s a huge responsibility as well.
And I — you know, you bring with you your — your prior experience. You bring with you your sort of formative ideas and wide eyes because you’re always taking stuff in. And, you know, your ears are choosing to — to listen to everything that you’re being told, and then somehow rather, you know, you — you’re blessed by having a fantastic group of people to work with. And then we do our best to do it like we work really hard, and we push like hell. And we — we produce what we hope will be compelling feature vehicles.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. I have to imagine you are thinking about different regions of the world differently. How do consumer preferences vary from either North America Europe or for either of those western countries to a place like China? How does that fit into the entire design process?
WRAITH: It’s a fundamental building block. I mean, vehicles are — are owned and used by people, and everyone’s different. And peoples can be culturally different by region. And also the circumstances, the situation that they’re in can be very different as well.
In — in the U.S. we’ve got a road system that’s really being framed around the vehicle. Go to Europe and it’s — it’s being framed around ox, you know, and — and sort of medieval area. People are moving livestock around the — sort of wild landscape. So, you know, the road is smaller and much more complicated. The city centers are — are very intense. It’s a very different situation to hear.
So once, you know — and the people who live in those environments as well, they have different needs and aspirations. Their circumstances are very different as well, so they may not have a (inaudible) vehicle in at all. So you — you need to get into the — into the skin of the people that you’re designing for and as much as you possibly can sort of see the world through their eyes.
And I think once you start to do that, the output and your work naturally sort of changes. And it’s a really — you know, learning is terrific fun and experimenting is great fun, and putting your ideas out there to sort of — sort of test them, stress test them is also interesting. You know, it can be disappointing sometimes when you — when you got it wrong, but it can also be really energizing when — when you — when you think you’re onto something, which is new. And those kind of insights, we — we — we hope to design more relevant products that — that move the topic, the subject of car forward.
RITHOLTZ: So that’s consumer desires. What about the enthusiast crowd? Do you pay much attention to social media, the press and then the hard core enthusiast community? How do they impact the design and marketing of cars?
WRAITH: I would say, first of all, that I was told a long time ago that design is like information filters. We just — we just draw in this wild pile of information. We sort of push it through our brains and somehow it falls out of our — of our hands and our pens with them in the form of cards. We’re like — we’re just filtering all this information all the time.
Part of that, of course, is what we see in the press, what we read. Social media plays a really big part on it. And then you — you wanted to get the — the un- (ph) sort of fettered words of the — of the user. And so it’s great when you got an enthusiast base to — to tap into. And we’re really lucky with Bronco that we have that. So we spent a lot of time, you know, reading, watching, listening, spending time with, going to places, you know, using the Internet. And that was — that was a sort of — that wasn’t a thing that we did.
Now and again, that was something that was happening constantly. We were sharing as — as a team on the Bronco program insights, and observations, and images and quotes from — from social media from the time that we got up in the morning until the time we were going to go to bed amongst the team, whether — whether we were sharing by text to email or — or Instagram kind of the popular means of communication for us as well. So it’s really important.
And so nobody has products better than the enthusiast. So, you know, it’s good to learn from — from them and then trying to apply into our — into our future visions as well. We can’t be constrained by it, of course. We can’t just do what they know that they won. We need to also try to stretch the topic further out so that we’re always making progress.
RITHOLTZ: Quite fascinating. So I’m an enthusiast. I have a Jeep Rubicon, and I’m kind of a fan of some of the older Toyota FJs, and Ford Broncos, and — and Land Rover Defender 90s. And all of these have just gone crazy in the collector market. So the question I have for you, what took so long to bring out a new Bronco?
WRAITH: Well, that’s a very good question. I think you’re right. I think we’ve seen a shift in the — in the — in the sort of classic car market and is paying a lot of attention to the vehicles that you just listed. I think we are seeing a shift in the — in the sort of public’s ambitions so this sort of off-road vehicles that they — that they want. And I think this is going to be a lot of growth in the rugged SUV space.
And the Bronco is really well prime for that. So I think there’s a little bit of serendipity, if you like, in the way that — that stars have aligned in just the right way to open the door for Bronco. But the Bronco has never gone away in the minds of the — of the Ford team. I’m sure there are people who have been keeping working on opportunities to try and get it back for — for a long time, but the circumstances have to be right. And it isn’t just a question of someone like me doodling pictures of — of a cool-looking Bronco and hoping that — that that will be enough to sort of kick the program off.
Before I get to pick my pencil up, there isn’t — there’s an awful lot of work with some super sharp people who take on the colossal undertaking of trying to take all of the — the parts that they know might exist that would help form the vehicle, the engine, the platform, you know, the wheels, electronics, the safety systems and so on, overlay that against the registered listed framework that we’ll drop the vehicle into, the amount of investment required to — to set a vehicle up, the amount of, you know, resources that we have available, human and financial. You know, is there a factory in the right place at the right time with the right capacity?
There is a sort of miasma of variables. And if — if you can get all of those sort of — all those listings to align and then you see an opportunity for — for a segment of the market that, you know, not really saturated, that has a lot of growth potential then — and — and it works. And then, I guess, we’re just really happy that, you know, the stars aligned in the right way this time such that the — the overall product development team at Ford are able to — to get the teeth into this thing and — and do a really good job. There’s a lot of passion behind the scenes to try and make it work.
You know, and I think it’s well-known that there have been a couple of runs in the past. But in the past, maybe the situation wasn’t quite right thankfully well this time …
RITHOLTZ: Right, well …
WRAITH: … and here we are.
RITHOLTZ: … it clearly was right this time. It was pretty obvious to me that your bogey was the Jeep Wrangler. They’ve kind of had that market all — all to themselves for a long time. How close do you guys think you came to hitting the mark of what’s going to be your, you know, most direct competition, the Jeep Wrangler?
WRAITH: I think whenever you launch a vehicle there’s almost certainly going to be something out there that’s a bit like. It — sometimes it can be a bit of a difficulty when — when those — your segment comprises of basically one vehicle because that can become too much of an influence. So what I think it did for us is it redoubled our focus on just doing what was right for — for us, for the Broncos as a brand for its legacy and for the — the uses as well.
Of course, we — we look at competitive vehicles for good and bad. You know, we want to poke holes and then we want to see what they’re doing wrong to see if we can do it better. We want to look a lot like they’re doing right and — and learn from that as well. But we didn’t just fixate about one other vehicle. We look very broadly, in fact, as well on our — on our benchmarking with — as why — why there’s side by side UTVs? You know, they aren’t road-rich. There’s all the way over to the marine industry products and speedboats.
So, yeah, we didn’t — I don’t think we — we really spend a lot of time rethinking that one vehicle. How can we be like it? We use it as a — as a measure that really our focus is about what we thought we needed to do.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. I really love the 35-inch tires and the nearly foot high ground clearance. What are some of your favorite design elements from the new Bronco?
WRAITH: You know, that’s a very difficult question because you’re so invested in all of it. I mean, some of the favorite elements will be the ones that you — you — you felt you have the hype, you know, push-pull and — and with the greatest, sort of bigger. Other things are just ideas, I think, just seems to make a lot of sense and are bit unusual.
I really love — I really love the Bronco bolt actually. I love the fact that we have a bolt with Broncos smashed into its head. Whenever you see one of those on the vehicle it’s an invitation for you to get the tool out and get involved of the vehicle and — and undo those bolts and take that part of, and either put another one in its place or it’s an opportunity for the aftermarket to come in and do something kind of exciting and creative and interesting.
I think that’s a really interesting part because generally, you know, in the contemporary automobile industry we tend to, one, to not have exposed bolts all over our vehicles.
WRAITH: We like this sort of flush finished. Everything is very discreet, very crafted. And so we took completely the opposite tack.
At the same time as we were coming up with that initial idea, we — we discovered that actually that the — that Ford produced Willys Jeep during the Second World War. But what stand — keeps the — the — the Ford produce vehicles different to the others is that each of the bolts on the Ford-produced jeep have an (inaudible) bashed into their head. So we thought it was kind of a nice knot in the wing (ph) back through history.
I love that part. I — I would think I also really love the — the trail site on the — on the leading edge of the front fenders. The original Bronco have these little peaked fenders. It was a real nice piece of styling, but it was — it was also very practical because when you sit behind the wheel of a — on every Bronco, you sort of see these peaks and it tells you exactly where the corner of the vehicle — front corner of the vehicle is. So it helps you position the vehicle very well. It’s a — it’s just a — it’s a nice attractive iconic piece of very sensible product design.
So we decided we would — we would follow the same path, so we have peaks in our fenders. But on top of that or, you know, piercing the fenders, in fact, we have these things called “trail sites.” And they’re like separate parts, which you can bolt things to, strap things through, and also uses a visual guide to the corners.
I really like those because they actually solved some — I think some problems that we will encounter now and again when we try to tie things off to the front of the vehicle with ropes, pulling over the hood and the headlight. And they offer an opportunity for the aftermarket and the public to get involved — for enabling regional solutions to fit their very specific needs. You know, we don’t know what all those needs will be. We don’t know what the solutions will be, but we’ll set the vehicle up in that area to provide a good platform for them to — to — to do what they need to do, to make the vehicle their vehicle.
RITHOLTZ: Just make sure no one tries to pull the truck out of the mud with those. They have like 150-pound capacity. That is not where the winch goes. And — and I hope nobody …
… makes that mistake.
So what sort of additions did you consider, but ultimately decide that’s just way too impractical? And you have a lot of really interesting things that I imagine were hard to get past upper management. What was just a bridge too far?
WRAITH: Well, the testing being flawed is very deep of broken dreams in the car industry. That is 100 percent the case always. But I — maybe in this case we’re — we have to lose a fewer ideas because the vehicle that — we’ve — we’re producing the Bronco, we’re talking about less than the — the — the — more than the Bronco Sport, but the — it has a degree of modularity so you can do things with the vehicle, which you couldn’t do with an Escape or an Explorer, for example, (inaudible) the doors (inaudible). You get the roof off. You can put different oofs on. You better put different doors on. You bend the flares off. You can — there’s multiple bunpers, multiple grills. So the vehicle has got this high level of modularity. So, fortunately, that means that we kept the door open to do lots of cool things.
Is there a specific thing that we didn’t manage? You know what? I — I think credit to the system that that that, you know, the Ford Motor Company that we manage to — to — to keep the door open to the cool ideas. I mean, I’m a designer. I — you know, I won’t — I wouldn’t be happy to — I would want to retire from this industry until I made something that flies or is being 3D-printed in one go from graffiti.
So our imagination is always — is always going to be out there. But I think in a sort of practical sense, I think we — we — we manage to come to just about everything, which was a lot of pressure on the — on the team as a whole.
We — we set ourselves, you know, more homework than normal. And we did everything in the same time as normal, which, you know, for Ford is — Ford’s got amazing product development process, very fast, very robust, but we just chose to do significantly more in the time available than normal. Yes, so (inaudible).
RITHOLTZ: I would imagine. The base version comes in under $30,000. That’s a great bogey. And all told, there are seven models. I was kind of surprised — Big Bend, Black Diamonds, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak, and first edition, which the initial run has already sold out. Why so many variations? Normally, these things get fed out in year two, in year three. Why come out of the gate with so many different choices?
WRAITH: I think there’s a few things there. So, well, first of all, we’re not using the typical series nomenclature. There’s no Titanium or XLT or any of those things. So Bronco deserves its own series. Walk — we chose to use locations instead of, you know, abbreviation, which I think is pretty fun. That becomes a creative opportunity in its own right because our graphics team does an amazing job actually on the — the series badger. They’re all different. They’re all placed on the side of the vehicle, not the rear. And the — the cool thing with them is they’re actually reflective as well. So when you’re on the campsite and you flasher a light over and then they’ll pop in the distance, which is really fun, so lots of creative opportunity even with those things.
But to come back to your original point, I think it’s important to try — and that our uses are so diverse. And, in fact, when we started the program we had — we had five target customers in mind. Now that — you know, just by way of explanation, that’s relatively unusual in my experience. In fact, it’s completely unusual.
You tend to have a target customer. The target customer for automobile design tends to be an amalgamation of available statistics and — and behaviors sort of created into some sort of virtual humans. And it’s a little bit — it’s a little bit superficial. Sometimes, in this particular case, the five people that we — we were trying to design for were very different, and they were real. They’re real people that we’d really spend time with. So we got to know a little bit and got to observe doing their thing, which we learned a great deal from. And they stand in, you know, both genders from 21-year-old to a 50-plus year-old guy, someone who live in the city to someone who’s just not — not happy unless they’re hanging their truck off the edge of a cliff somewhere.
And then when you get down to it, you go, these people are so different. You know, we need to do more to cater for them. Hence, the greater number of series. And also the different way that we’re going to allow customers to add packs to their vehicle to tune it specifically to their needs. So, as you say …
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting.
WRAITH: … yeah, 35-inch tires and everything, you know, no matter where you buy a Base or you buy a Badland, you know, you can get what you need.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about the design process. Let’s use the Bronco as — as an example. How long have you been working on this new car? And is that typical for either a new vehicle or the reintroduction of an older vehicle?
WRAITH: Whether we’re — we’re doing a new, new vehicle or reintroducing an iconic nameplate, I think we take pretty much a fair amount of time. It’s also a very difficult question to answer this one because you sort of think that somebody would walk into the studio and say, “Here, everybody, here’s the brief.” And then at some indeterminate period in the future, they’ll go, “Thanks very much. This is great. We’ll just take this from here,” and out it goes. But we have a — we have a buildup, too, and then we have a — a soft run-out. So the amount of time it takes to design a — a vehicle is — is a little bit — is a little bit difficult to tie down.
But what I can tell you is I think is that the — the North American Auto Show 2017 sitting up in the — in the Cobo Hall in Detroit looking down our then CEO announced the fact that the Bronco is coming back. And I think that’s probably, for me, the point when I — I really — although it was on my plate, that was a bit where I — I really thought, you know what, yeah, yes, the game is on.
As he announced that and the — the screen behind him announced the — the Bronco coming back, I noticed all the journalists’ heads around me all sort of went up. They all see each other and they’re also scribbling seriously and writing text messages (inaudible). There’s an — there’s an energy from this. This isn’t normal. This is much bigger than sort of anticipated.
But, you know, we don’t — we don’t run away and stop making models sort of way, you know, we need to go through a heavy period of — of learning and absorbing information before we then start to — to start really start putting our pen to paper. And for us, on this particular project, the putting the pen to paper was — was quite unusual. We bent the rules all over the place to — to get this vehicle through because although Ford has got a fantastic product development process, we needed to reshape it a little bit to — to sit Bronco into it.
And so we — we didn’t do glamour sketches (inaudible) automotive industry typically produces. My designers can all do it, it’s just that we had a different focus. The design of the vehicle emerged from tiny doodles on Post-it notes and on scraps of paper that was pinned to a wall where we were trying to sort of imagine our way through a day in the life of our five customers. And then we were realizing that they were a problem along the way and there is role playing. And then we were designing solutions for that and, as a designer, puts the pens and the paper. They make something look like something. And it’s actually (inaudible) little drawings there that there’s a — there’s a glimmer of the design of the vehicle began to emerge.
And then we went straight into virtual reality. We didn’t make physical proxies. Normally, the car industry makes scale clay model, little things that a sort of a yard or so long. We skipped that process, entirely — went entirely virtual. And then our next stage was to make a full-size vehicle, but not one made from modeling clay, which is a typical – the current industry medium. We make something out of packing material that we could get all in and out of, and stand on and play with, and open and close doors, and modify and hack in, immediately start modifying.
So we — we did the process somewhat differently. And it was kind of fun. I got into trouble a few times, but not having things — the normal things ready at the normal time. But I had other things, which I thought were probably more useful to — to learning and experimentation, and furthering the — the development process.
RITHOLTZ: I read somewhere that one of the VPs at Ford had one of the original Broncos, and your team took it and did a laser scan and imported it into V.R. so you could literally get all of the proportions and measurements as a frame of reference. Well, first of all, is that story true? And if it is true, how helpful was that process?
WRAITH: It’s really true. That specific Bronco that we used belong to — and still does — belong to my boss, the Vice President of Design, Moray Callum. And what’s terrific about his Bronco is it’s actually pretty stock. You know, there’s almost no such thing as a standard Bronco any longer. They’ve all been modified as they pass through the hands of all the owners and through families and they have changed their — their purpose, you know, and parts have needed to be replaced.
Well, Moray’s is — is really original and it’s quite beautiful. So it’s stood as a good reference point to us. We thought we did scan it. We — we have a — a very sophisticated equipment that is super accurate. You can pick up the orange peel in the painted surface. Scans down to fractions of a millimeter, thousands of a millimeter.
So we did scan it and we did import it into our — particularly into our engineering CAD software. And it became a layer of information and amongst all the other layers of information that we were doing at the time. So we took our best guess on the platform and powertrain, and cooling packs. We have all of them through all of the lights allowed to go, drones (ph) where we think we need to clear points for trash, for example; cone — visibility cones for radar. And there are a myriad of other things that we need to accommodate. If you imagine, that’s sort of CAD engineering software with all these no features of input and hovering somewhere in the middle of it all is this 1960’s Bronco. It was pretty unusual actually to see it.
I have to say that, you know, it didn’t just sit there preserved. It quickly became chopped up and moved around, and elements of it got lifted and re-proportioned as we used it as a baseline. But the objective of that point was not to try and make the newborn go like the old Bronco at all, but it stood as a — as an excellent bookend and amongst all the other sort of modern-day issues that we’re having to sort of deal with. And it served a great purpose.
Upon reflection, it was fascinating to bring — bring that vehicle back home, put it back in product development center in Dearborn and then interrogate it in that way, and then use it as a reference point for music or other perspective in another Bronco used remotely like that. Certainly, that original Bronco would have never been designed with any CAD at all. It would all have been drawings and pen. So it was a fun process.
RITHOLTZ: I can — I can imagine. You — you keep discussing your team. I’m curious how many people are on a typical design team like the Bronco, and how were they divided up? Are there interior, exterior, powertrain people, electronics people or does everybody wear multitude of hats?
WRAITH: So from my point of view I’m responsible for the — the appearance and the sort of product design of the vehicle, interior and exterior as well. And so that team comprise of about — well, very good numbers, but it was around about 10 to 15 people, all told. Then we have to work very closely with our engineering colleagues who are concerned with electrical, and interior, and exterior and sheet metal experts, and lighting experts and, you know, every area of the vehicle you can imagine that there’s an expert — engineering team — to work with.
So we think to be in the middle of quite a lot of it because we’re sort of trying to glue there all of the images of the vehicle together. But fortunately, you know, we got an extremely talented group of people. We — we had a few more on this budget perhaps than some other programs, but mainly because of the complexity of it, we required more eyes and more hands on it. Yes, six times a group of people who actually some of whom drive their own Broncos every day to work or in a — in a process of restoring them, so a real enthusiast crowd as well.
RITHOLTZ: Quite fascinating. Let’s talk a little bit about the future of — of cars and designs and technology. One of the things I was kind of fascinated by was the Mach-E platform chassis, something that the Mustang Mach-E truck is going to be based on. How versatile is something like that? Are we going to see other vehicles coming out using that platform? And, in general, do most carmakers like to come out with a — a versatile platform that you could put a variety of different vehicles on?
WRAITH: Well, I can’t comment on future product actions. Of course, I’m sure you’ll appreciate this industry highly secretive, but it is …
WRAITH: … their secret to accept that we need to — if some of the technologies we use in our vehicles are so critical and so expensive to develop that reuse is really important. And so it’s funny (inaudible) platform, you know, where they manufacture sort of that platform strategies or which platform is this new vehicle based upon. So a degree of reuse is typical in the industry, but the platform can refer to the sort of otherwise usually hidden underbody of the vehicle. It can refer to the electrical infrastructure, the safety systems and also powertrain as well.
So — so that point, you know, the (inaudible) that produced — you know, we’re launching really three Broncos, the Bronco two-door, the Bronco four-door and the Bronco Sport. Is the two in the four-door are sharing a platform with one of our trucks, the Ranger, in fact, how it will be modified and developed and tuned to really suit the — the off-road space that we’re — we’re designing it for? And the Bronco Sport is most closely related to something like the Escape, very different. Again it’s had vast amount of investment put into it to ensure that its capability off-road is absolutely staggering, frankly. But that’s how you use the platform to enable you to be used more vehicles affordably.
RITHOLTZ: Makes a lot of sense. So some manufacturers come up with a very recognizable common design or user interface across their entire product lines. Ford doesn’t exactly do this. But when I look at the Bronco, I can imagine elements of that finding its way into other vehicles. What is it about BMW, probably more than anybody, has a certain design ethos that you see literally in every single vehicle? Tell us a little bit about the decision-making that goes into the idea of a line-up being similar or very, very distinct from each other?
WRAITH: You’re right. Of course, that sort of family look can be smeared across an entire range of vehicles. And I think for a number of years, decades perhaps, we’ve — we’ve seen this has been a typical strategy and point of views as well. But, you know, as our automotive space is stretched and we look at vehicles, which aren’t necessarily — you know, got necessarily four doors and a roof, but have got another form factor to them, there’s a point where some of these design languages can become quite challenged. They don’t quite make it. It becomes quite difficult to apply that language of a low sleek sedan, for example, to a semi-truck or to a fly machine, or to a robot drone or whatever.
So it can become a limitation. And I think we’ve been quite smart actually as a brand in saying, well, you know, well, everyone loves the personality. You know, we turn on the TV and we love to see these personalities, these characters that really stand out and look different to one another.
Imagine if you watch a chat show and everybody on it was exactly the same, you know, you want to see — see differences and that creates tensions and excitement and discourse. And so, you know, we’re very lucky at Ford. We’ve got — we have these nameplates that are so iconic that we can — we can build on and really focus down on. So, you know, Mustang is one, Bronco is another. Transit, frankly, is another one on as well.
And I think then once you’ve taken this idea that it’s cool, in fact, it’s got great potential in its differences then — then it’s pretty easy to focus down doing exactly the right thing for that particular nameplate, which is why then, you know, a Bronco doesn’t like a Explorer, for example. You know, it’s important that the differences are made. There might be elements of, you know, the Bronco’s technology that we potentially could use elsewhere in our — in our system. And that will be sensible, good business practice to do if it — if it offers the customer and other vehicle line a tacit improvement.
But in terms of the appearance, no, we need to do things with Bronco that are true to Bronco. And that’s — that’s how you respect the brand, but it’s also how you build the brand going forward.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk a little bit about the future. Might we see, at some point, a hybrid Bronco or diesel Bronco or even an all-electric Bronco? Is that conceivable?
WRAITH: Again, you know, I can’t — can’t comment on each product action. This is a — a competitive space …
WRAITH: … but the world, of course, is — is moving on. So we’re open now to — to all sorts of eventualities.
RITHOLTZ: Very much along those lines, Ford announced a plan to work with really Rivian’s platform as a way to jumpstart an acceleration towards a — either a hybrid or an electric future. Kind of interesting, I don’t really recall Ford doing anything like that in recent memory. Is that just a way to hedge their bet against the internal combustion engine or is it something new because technology allows you to try things like that that you couldn’t do previously?
WRAITH: Or a combination of all of those things. You know, we have — that’s a very spectacular piece of investment and it’s very exciting news. But we’re working with other companies all the time. A lot of their names will be not very common unless you work deep inside the car industry. So I think a manufacturer like Ford wants to do the best, you know, and wants to progress as quickly as possible in a myriad of different directions, depending on the — the needs of the products and the — and the user.
I think the — the Rivian is just a — tends to be just a more public version of that. But, you know, if we were deep inside the car industry we could talk about all of the microscopic ones right down to, you know, a small company that might have invented an interesting way of molding a switch. You know, that would also be a — a method of — of trying to advance the subject of car and truck thoughts for us versus our competitors.
RITHOLTZ: Quite fascinating. You earlier mentioned graphene. How important are materials like graphene in creating very lightweight, but very strong materials that could be used in — in future products?
WRAITH: You know, I’ve yet to see graphene really being used versus the promises that were — were originally made. But I think the key is that we — we just need to be super open — open-minded and constantly be looking towards. And so, you know, occasionally someone might say, well, you know, cars (inaudible) then you go (inaudible), but the people who are producing them do not necessarily set out to produce something that looks the same as everything else. Their — their eye is on the future.
But, you know, if you’re doing a one-off then yeah, you can make things out of exotic materials and (inaudible). But the — the real challenge reported design is to try and take those principles and then bring them to the everyday person and to — to do in volume as well. That’s a heck of a challenge. And so, you know, you can’t blame (inaudible) for dreaming. Those dreams sometimes they turn into reality. So we’ll keep pushing.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s stick with the issue of reality. When you’re early in the design process of — of any product, how are you balancing budget restrictions? And what I mean by that is you have your internal cost structure and you have to work with that, but you also have a targeted MSRP, what the vehicle is going to go on sale for, how did those elements come into play as you work your way through the process?
WRAITH: There are people far clever than designers to talk about numbers very differently. I think we — we want to make profit-making vehicles, of course, we do. And there are lots of different influences upon that. You can’t laden a vehicle for the unnecessary componentry that the customer won’t appreciate and expect to improve your bottom line. So you’ve got to be, I think, quite focused on adding things to the vehicle where it’s really necessary and where it’s going to be really appreciated first and foremost.
And then there’s a constant tension between, you know, what we’re wanting to include versus what we think we can sell it for versus if you add a little bit of additional componentry or something to or feature or technology or material to the vehicle, will that actually make it worth more? You know, will the company come at a high price or out in the market?
This debate is yo-yoing of — of factors is continual without the higher process. And if — we’re active participants in it, but we don’t sit there with a calculator trying to work out the — the percentages. We’ll make our case for things that we feel quite strongly about. And then there’s a tied team and the — our P.D. team is really tight. You know, we can have good frank and open debate about the — the merits of one execution versus another. And we’re constantly looking for efficiencies to make things better.
But in the case of the Bronco, I would come back and say that, you know, we were very open-minded to the sort of less is more approach. There’s really nothing on the outside of these vehicles that (inaudible) or unnecessary or frivolous.
And it became a little bit of a hobby of mine driving to work in the morning, just looking at the other vehicles around me and thinking, “What can I take off that vehicle and that still function as a vehicle?” There’s things that you can’t take off. Obviously, the headlights and it has to be there. But, you know, extraneous pieces of trim, you know, are redundant like the elements, all those sorts of things. It became like the sort of training exercise to leave you some excessive elements of car-starring (ph) behind and to focus exclusively on doing what was right for the Bronco. Really, really, really fun.
So I’m not sure if that answers your question, but, first of all, it’s — it’s really complicated with the studio is definitely a part of that debate. And we ultimately come together to produce a vehicle that’s going to be very profitable for the company.
RITHOLTZ: So there are a number of things beneath the skin of the Bronco that look like they aren’t inexpensive. So your terrain management system is called GOAT, Goes Over Any Terrain.
RITHOLTZ: You have seven different drive modes. Creating that crossbeam-free roof, that whole roof comes off from the front of the vehicle all the way to the back. That looks like that was an engineering challenge.
The Trail Turn Assist, I mean, there’s a lot of off-roading tech built into this. The Inclinometer — including that — the — the ability to have a display on your dashboard of the exact degree of your X, Y and Z inclinations, none of that stuff looks especially inexpensive. So I’m just curious how you manage to, you know, work all that into a car that the base model is $29,995.
WRAITH: Yeah. So, you know, this is — again it’s about focus, isn’t it? So I’d much prefer to have Trail Turn Assist as a feature on the vehicle because I think it’s meaningful to the customer. And, for example, offer the bumpers in body color, you know, with all the intrinsic complexity and cost that that would drive. You know, so it’s all about focus.
And I think some of the technology you just listed as super, super progressive, that’s absolutely fantastic. And they will make being off-roads and easier, more fulfilling and more accessible experience. You know, Bronco should be about these amazing stories. You learn at the beginning of the development process. We — we have these — beginning of a meeting, everyone has sort of arrived, and it’s that little chatty bit before the agenda starts.
And with the typical behavior for people to get our people particularly what the Bronco should be like. And then you — you get these photographs to come out of wallet sort of the smartphone have come out and the picture of that person’s Bronco or their brother’s Bronco or their mom’s Bronco or the Bronco picture of their mom and dad when they were, you know, much younger or the one they’re looking out on (inaudible) on and bring a trailer or the models would come out of the pocket, you know, here you go. These are hot wheels. That’s what the Bronco should be.
What we learned very quickly was that Bronco is about stories like human stories, rich in jewelry stories and, you know, you can’t get to the point where the — the vehicle is going to be able to create new stories and less people are able to access the vehicle and put it into the landscape with those — those stories be written most — most intensely. And so technology is like that, but make accessing the wilderness so much easier are critical to the vehicle. We should not look like it can do it, but they should not look like he can do it, but only in the hands of an expert. We should be able to make the experience of being off-road much more open to everybody more democratic. So everybody involved in the program, although it’s not a product design, styling design kind of element.
Everybody would — in the studio environment — would recognize that those are deeply important and, frankly, better trade off than, for example, a piece of chrome, you know, that could just be chrome on the outside. So we — we work together to produce products not — not just things that look nice.
RITHOLTZ: Quite, quite fascinating. I — I have another four hours of questions, but I only have you for another five minutes. So — so let’s jump right to our speed rounds. These are the questions we ask all of our guests. And — and let’s start out with a simple question. What are you streaming these days? Give us your favorite Netflix, Amazon Prime shows you’re watching or podcasts you might be listening to. What is keeping you entertained under lockdown?
WRAITH: I — I watch very little television in all honestly. I spend most of my time researching things on social media podcast-wise. I — actually, I’m a real fan of motorsport. I listen to the BBC’s Checkered Flag, Formula 1 podcast. I love the sort of references to high technology, team work and determination that comes through that. That — that’s not quite inspiring.
And also soon I’m going to be listening to the Bring Back Bronco podcast that’s going to help explain some of the stories of the Bronco. So that I will be listening to.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Tell us about some of your mentors who helped guide your career and helped you arrive where you are today.
WRAITH: Probably I would say you — you — you sounded very good at helping you start. You know, that — that child who is just about to (inaudible) with cars who fortunately was dragged to places where amazing cars could be seen to sort of feed this fascination. I think that’s a good starting point.
Some of the truth is that I had it — my universities were — were really instrumental in, first of all, allowing me to study in the first place, but then also helping encourage my enthusiasm and point it in the right direction. But, you know, more recently, I would say that I wouldn’t name names, but I would say it’s a combination of the many very experienced, very senior people in — in this company who have provided, you know, fantastic guidance and decision-making and a multitude of products I’ve been involved with over the years, you know. And it’s from — from those insights an encouragement that you — you are able to do more, do more accurately and progress. It’s a — it’s not sort of favoritism. It, frankly, is just information and you use that information in a — in a really useful way to get better.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Tell us about what you’re reading. Well, what are you reading currently or what are some of your previous favorite books?
WRAITH: Wired, I read Wired Magazine. That’s not a book, but that — that I always read cover to cover usually early in the morning with a coffee. Twenty-one Lessons for the 21st century by Yuval Noah Harari is (inaudible) through that a couple of times actually that — that — I find constantly quite inspiring.
And a couple of books by Bill (inaudible), actually particularly on the home. That book was fascinating. Again, I read that over and over.
The — the amazing observation is about something, which is so familiar with the home, your house, you know, a journey sort of how each individual room and where that room came from and what is in that room and where are all those inventions came from. That simplicity that he’s got in explaining things that we just take for granted, it seems like a very good analysis of — of brilliant product design to me. So that seems to — to be on my best side of the table quite often.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. What sort of advice would you give to a recent college graduate who was interested in working in the automotive industry?
WRAITH: This is the advice I give often because I’m at a fortunate position to be able to employ people from college. And I guess, while I always try to explain is — is not to try and emulate what they think that they should be doing in the car industry, but to form a point of view, have a point of view about what they think mobility should be about in the future and hang on to it, and then keep — keep driving that forward and listen, most of all, to that little instinct.
You know, we’ve all got it. And we know that it’s fair because sometimes we’ll be in a situation we got, “I knew that was going to happen,” well, rather than be commenting after the effect, we need to listen to that little voice, you know, very quiet voice much earlier on and act on it and do something in advance of the thing happening. So listen to your instinct. Have the point of view and do something with it and basically also work really hard.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking with Paul Wraith. He is the Chief Designer for the new Ford Bronco and the Chief Designer for Ford.
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I’m Barry Ritholtz. You’ve been listening to Masters in Business on Bloomberg Radio.