College for Creative Studies: Transportation Design


James Smithbauer

Ford Motor Company

Designer Manager, Truck Interiors

The roar of an engine, the thrill of the chase. Jim Smithbauer’s first word was “car.” As a child, he was mesmerized by the hot rods and action-packed sequences in “Bullitt” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” Today, he frequents auto shows around the world revealing his designs for Ford’s most anticipated rides.

“One of the things I enjoy most about my job is being able to show a vehicle to the public for the first time after having worked on it for years prior,” said Smithbauer. “It's like showing off a new baby, and you always hope no one will tell you it's ugly!”
Smithbauer began his career at Ford while he was a still a student at CCS. After interning at the manufacturer’s Design Center, he was hired to work on the complete interior appearance of various car and crossover lines. Some of his most rewarding projects include the 2010 Mustang interior, 2004 F150 interior, various Lincoln Navigator interiors and the upcoming Lincoln MKX and Ford Edge interiors.

“These interiors are unique—not only because of their sophisticated design, high quality materials and craftsmanship beyond what you'd expect in their respective classes, but because they usher in a new level of technology beyond what you'll find in any other vehicle, regardless of price,” Smithbauer explained.

“I've always loved cars, and, although certain movies have influenced me on projects like the Mustang, I've learned to step outside of my own experiences and find out more about what the customer really wants from the car or truck they're purchasing. Though I've had the opportunity to work on many vehicles, both interior and exterior over the years, the project that means the most to me is always the one I'll be showing to you next, but can't tell you about yet!”

As a design manager, Smithbauer leads a talented team of designers and modelers who use sketches, clay models and digital data to create the appearance of their project’s interiors.

“I'm always learning on the job, whether it's from an old veteran or a freshly minted CCS grad,” said the designer. “I'm continually amazed when someone creates a sketch that forces me to look at something in a new way. The day I think I know everything is the day I need a new career.”