Jason Castriota Joins Ford Advanced Design

One of the main reasons I like attending auto shows is to meet with designers, an easy feat when you’re at the Detroit auto show, where the international event draws crews from automakers the world over. You’re able to catch up with people on an annual basis in a venue that’s smaller than one of the two Geneva motor show halls, which, by all accounts, is far smaller than the mammoth Frankfurt/Paris and the Shanghai/Beijing events.

And so last week I had a chance to catch up with Jason Castriota – a longtime friend and show attendee – who was walking around with Ford’s strategic design director Freeman Thomas and wearing a Ford pin on his jacket lapel.

I spoke with Castriota and learned that he joined the company at the start of this year to lead advanced design at the automaker’s Dearborn facility, a role that was specifically created to further Ford’s objectives from within the head office. He will report to Thomas.

Until now all of Ford’s advanced and strategic design work has been undertaken in California, but Castriota specifically expressed his elected desire to be based in the “mothership”, which will allow for a more immediate strategic implementation of objectives.

Ford’s press conference in Detroit (and indeed the show stand) was a showcase for the convergence taking place in the technology and automotive sectors, which will see the company steer down new paths in the mobility sector – i.e. outside of the car world.

CEO Mark Fields highlighted how Ford is making the transition from “being an auto company to becoming and auto and mobility company”, scoping out opportunities to solve mobility issues. “[We in] the auto industry need to disrupt ourselves,” he said at the event, speaking about the emergence of Ford Smart Mobility and highlighting “opportunities with new ventures” that could see Ford talking a piece of the $5.4 trillion mobility and transport sector pie as well as the 6% slice the company has of the $2.4 trillion auto industry.

“Apple was on brink of bankruptcy, then reinvented itself,” said Fields, drawing parallels to the technology giant and the company his grandfather founded. “[At present, Ford] engages customers one year before sale then we don’t interact until their next purchase. That needs to change,” he said.

One of the steps Ford will take on the road towards reinventing itself is called FordPass — a new connected infotainment suite of services that encompasses mobility as well as connectivity and analytics — that’s been in development for 18 months. The service is free and anyone can be a member, though Ford customers will have obvious perks. Ford also plans to make technology ‘hubs’ available (in shopping malls, etc.) around the world, with the first opening in New York before the end of the year.

This is where Jason Castriota comes in. His varied background working in the automotive as well as the industrial design sectors will undoubtedly have a very positive effect on these objectives. He comes from and has been living in the city in which Ford plans to launch the first of its hubs, paying upwards of $65 per day to park his car in a metropolis that’s better accessed by taxis, public transportation, car sharing services and bicycles. And even with a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano — a car he designed while at Pininfarina — in the garage, he takes the train into the city from his Connecticut home because it’s more time and cost effective than battling NYC traffic congestion.

Born in New York to Italian parents, Castriota began working at Pininfarina following an internship at the Italian carrozzeria’s facilities while a student at Art Center College of Design. When the internship ended, Castriota decided to stay in Turin and work under Ken Okuyama rather than return to the US to complete his studies.

At Pininfarina he designed one-off special projects such as the Ferrari P4/5 for American car collector James Glickenhaus, concept cars such as the Maserati Birdcage 75th and the Rolls Royce Hyperion and the production Maserati GranTurismo, as well as many others. In 2008 he left Pininfarina to head design at Stile Bertone – where he penned the Corvette-based Mantide one-off — before joining Saab two years later.

But Castriota also opened his own design consultancy, Castriota Design, just before he was made an offer by Bertone. The company worked on a range of industrial design projects from footwear to boats, aircraft interiors and a supercar for SSC. With offices in New York and Turin, Castriota frequently travelled between studios, expanding and his team as projects became available.

Over the years he’s had several offers from clients offering to buy out the company he founded, which he politely declined. When the offer for full-time employment came from Ford, it was too good to pass up.

Castriota Design is currently winding down, following the last few projects on the burner, but Jason’s had the opportunity to work on a number of diverse projects for the last seven years, including a recent stint with New York-based product design firm Skylabs.

With the announced shift set to take place within Ford in the coming months, I’m sure I won’t be the only one waiting with baited breath to see how it all pans out. Until then, it would appear Ford’s made a good strategic decision to ensure the company can remain relevant in the future.


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