2008 Ford Mustang - customized
2008 Ford Mustang – customized. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Norm Mort

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2008 Ford Mustang – customized

Who is Mark Conforzi?

For more than a century, OEM manufacturers and other automotive merchandising businesses have been cashing in on aftermarket parts, accessories and personalizing equipment. It has only been over the last few decades that the automobile manufacturers have taken a more serious interest in going beyond the up-graded sound system, floor mats, gearshift knobs and baseball caps.

Over the same period, consumer interest in aftermarket auto parts and accessories has expanded beyond the usual “enthusiasts” who drive sporty cars or specialized trucks. Today, most purchasers want to personalize their new vehicle in some way or other, whether it is an improved sound system, fancier wheels, graphics or body kits. Aftermarket suppliers have a long list of items available to “personalize” every vehicle on the market from the smallest, economy cars to the biggest, luxury sport-utes.

Over the past two years, the Ford Motor Company began the transition from being a peripheral player in aftermarket sales and vehicle personalization to become a major supplier.

Ford’s first step was to establish a new group within the company to focus on the aftermarket. Known as “Vehicle Personalization,” it was a self contained business unit headed by Vehicle Personalization & Accessories Manager Kim Irwin and Planning and Marketing Manager Doug White.
Due to the nature of its role within the Ford Motor Company and its business focus, the diverse group is staffed with Product Planning, Engineering, Manufacturing, Purchasing, Finance, Marketing and Design departments.

2008 Ford Mustang - customized
2008 Ford Mustang – customized. Click image to enlarge

Ford has also taken the concept one step further by offering many of the traditional aftermarket items as factory installations at the time of assembly. These items are known within the company as Production Channel features. Thus, the customer can have his or her Ford, Lincoln or Mercury vehicle delivered with the “personalized” items already professionally fitted, painted, installed, etc. right from the factory.

“Production Channel” features and packages are installed at the assembly plant or modification center located right outside the plant. These modifications could include wheels, appearance packages for all of Ford’s cars, trucks and SUV / Crossover models, graphics and stripe packages and spoilers.
As well, Ford also offers a wide range of “Dealer Channel” features that are installed at the dealership level. These include TripTunes Advanced, remote start, keyless entry keypad, body kits and dual DVD headrests, etc.

Organized very much like a company within a company, the Vehicle Personalization unit develops approximately 30-40 Production Channel programs at 16 vehicle assembly plants per year.

2008 Ford Mustang - customized
2008 Ford Mustang – customized. Click image to enlarge

Pictured is a 2007 Mustang painted in a very muscle car-like “Grabber Orange.” The unique personal features include 18-inch polished wheels, CS side scoops, a GT hood scoop, a V6 Ford Racing bright exhaust tip, a special chrome billet grille and front lip spoiler, distinctive hood and side stripes, an exclusive deck lid applique and characteristic black floor mats with a Pony logo.

As noted by Mark Conforzi, Ford Motor Company Chief Designer of Vehicle Personalization, “Our mission is to deliver cool products and content, including Ford’s “buzz” vehicle programs, special regional packages and technology features. These features are designed to enhance the vehicle in appearance, performance and overall experience.”

The recently released “California Special” Mustang was a version developed by the Vehicle Personalization unit, as was the Warriors in Pink model supporting Breast Cancer awareness equipped with a Pony Package, pink stripes, stitching and ribbon appliques.
Mr. Conforzi added, “From a product development aspect -i.e. the Lincoln MKS, Edge, Flex and other lines, we can build themes to specialize for different consumer groups.”

2008 Ford Mustang - customized
2008 Ford Mustang – customized. Click image to enlarge

From the purchaser point of view great design is imperative when it comes to graphics, ground effects packages, spoilers, wheels, etc., yet generally purchasers tend to dismiss the design elements on items of less prominence. At the same time as consumers we are quick to voice our collective opinion if something just doesn’t look right.

As a result, Ford recognizes that good design is involved on every Vehicle Personalization program from bug shields to bed mats and everything in between. The in between covers such details as seat fabrics and the type and color of stitching used on the seat.

As well as current products already on the market, the Vehicle Personalization unit is in touch with the design and engineering teams developing new vehicles so as to have unique packages and parts available at launch time.

As Mr. Conforzi pointed out, “We’re developing a wide range of very cool products which push the brand boundaries such as expressive, dimensional wheels for all our cars and trucks and accessories which enhance and emphasize the character of our vehicles. My responsibilities allow me to extend from the wide canvas which was created and deliver more products that customers want. The possibilities really are endless. With so many new emerging markets, it allows Design to cultivate ideas with efficacy and create new ways of visual communication.”

2008 Ford Mustang - customized
2008 Ford Mustang – customized. Click image to enlarge

Design ideas and concepts abound at annual shows like SEMA in Las Vegas, but this is not a source.

“We go to SEMA to see what is going on, but it is to stimulate, not duplicate. Shows are very current, but it never reflects tomorrow,” said Mr. Conforzi. “Design has always been about moving forward and viewing tomorrow optimistically, however I honestly believe it’s important to acknowledge the past. Good examples of design combine a contemporary appearance and recognizes heritage as well. When you combine these two elements you not only create something inspiring, but with substance and longevity.”

The success of the Vehicle Personalization group can be measured by the fact business has doubled from 2006 – 2008. In 2008 it is estimated that Vehicle Personalization parts will be added to 45% of all the Mustangs delivered.

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