Designing a Better Future

The Ford CEO shake-up has received a lot of attention, but few know that one of the most amazing mobility innovators in the world just left Ford as well. Jose Paris resigned his position as the Manager of Advanced Design in Ford’s chic London (Soho) studio last month. He’s going to start a new mobility company. It’s unfortunate for Ford, as Jose is a top car designer and an entrepreneur. He has the exact type of new innovator DNA Ford needs to excel in the future. 

Early in Jose’s career, after attending Art Center College of Design, Jose worked for Ford and then General Motors Advanced Design Center in California. I met him in 2006, while he was at GM, and we discussed the mobility future at length. It was immediately clear to me, Jose had the right stuff. He studied architecture in Spain before becoming a car designer. He has the blend of skills that I feel will become very important in the future of autonomous vehicles. 

During his first stint at Ford, he designed several show cars. My favorite is the Ford MA. This was an ultra-simple “kit” sports car. It was designed for a special exhibit around the career of then-Ford vice president of Design, J Mays. Show cars have a habit of looking dated not long after they are shown. Not the MA. The level of design execution on that show vehicle is amazing!

In 2007, Jose did what few designers have the courage to do. He left a good-paying job to start his own new mobility company. He launched a company called “itMoves.” His idea was to create a single-person shared electric car, which had a small footprint. His car had a very iconic design.  He landed a key business partner, and they worked to launch a company to make the new vehicle as well as a carshare service to rent it out by the minute or hour. 

The venture did not fly, and Jose was hired back by Ford, to work in its very cool London office. I believe Jose was excited about Ford’s potential to move into the mobility arena. I thought this was going to be an amazing opportunity to have Jose back at the Blue Oval.

But over time, it seemed Ford wasn’t able to find the right projects for Jose, and he decided to go back to college to get an MBA. He graduated this spring, and notified Ford he would be leaving to start a new mobility company.

His new company might surprise you: it’s called “watt-r” (watt-r.com). Jose has decided to address a market few others have—to enable the 600-million people (mostly in Africa) to get clean drinking water by using a small solar-powered vehicle he is now creating. Together with a partner that knows Africa and the water issues first-hand, they are working to create an electric vehicle that has no batteries, ultra-low cost to make and use, and the ability to be shared through programs similar to micro-banking.

The reason I feel Jose has so much going for him is because of his diverse areas of expertise. It’s his ability to address design projects as both an architect and as a car designer that serve him so well. Add to that the fact that he also has a business mind, which has led him to become an entrepreneur. It’s the perfect recipe to create a highly potent designer and mobility innovator.

Given that Henry Ford’s third company (the Ford Motor Co. of today) has been such a powerful force for transforming the United States and the world, I hope to see the company do well and become a new mobility leader.  But seeing Jose leave the company doesn’t give me all that much hope. Many of the new mobility projects at Ford would have done so well to have Jose involved in them.

I feel DESIGN is one of the most powerful 6-letter words in the world. Steve Jobs became the giant he was, mainly because he was a business person who understood DESIGN unlike any other in business. While there is no way of knowing whether Jobs would have admired the work of Jose Paris, it is clear to me that Jose is exactly what our world needs to create a far better future.