Kemal Curic, who famously redesigned the 50th anniversary Ford Mustang, has a new focus – what he calls the “sculpted, athletic and youthful” 2024 Lincoln Nautilus.
When we spoke with Curic in 2021, the Lincoln Motor Co. global design director had just released the Lincoln Zephyr Reflection concept car, which Motor Trend hailed as a “stunner” in design and performance.
His latest creation, a hybrid SUV designed at Lincoln’s Irvine Design Studio in collaboration with the company’s design center in Shanghai, is being hailed as “red hot,” “sensuous” and “sublime.”
“We think it will attract a more youthful customer,” Curic says during an interview at the Lincoln Experience Center in Fashion Island. “Lincoln has been a progressive American brand for 100 years. This is the next great innovation.”
From Sarajevo to Spectrum
Growing up in Sarajevo during the tumultuous 1990s, Curic caught his first glimpse of a Ford Mustang at age 10.
“It was shaking the ground and absolutely phenomenal,” he says. “It gave me goosebumps.”
Curic followed his dream of designing cars to America, where he has designed many vehicles for Ford and Lincoln – including the 2015 Ford Mustang, which marked the iconic car’s 50th anniversary.
After that, he designed the 2017 Lincoln Continental and 2019 Lincoln Aviator, named “best American luxury car in a generation” by Road & Track.
The exterior of the new Nautilus, he says, is inspired by the gliding beauty of a bird taking flight – from the design of its front grille to its tail lamps.
The interior feels like a private yacht, with a coast-to-coast 48-inch-wide digital dashboard display, hands-free driving and noise-canceling, acoustic-laminate glass – as well as massage seats and scented breezes when in park.
“We took it to the next level,” Curic says.
Auto design flourishes in Irvine
Lincoln’s presence in Irvine follows a long tradition of carmakers who have chosen Southern California as their creative center.
The Mazda Miata – the bestselling sports car of all time – was designed in Irvine, and flourished because it was rooted in Southern California, according to Tom Matano, a Japanese-born transplant who ran Mazda’s design studio in Irvine when the Miata was created in 1989.
Other manufacturers represented here include Ford, Hyundai and Kia, as well as EV makers Rivian and Karma.
From Curic’s perspective, Irvine’s popularity among auto manufacturers is connected to Southern California’s status as a center for car culture, along with the many aerospace and tech companies based in the region.
“This is the mecca,” says Curic, who lives in Irvine with his wife and three children. “There’s a passion for cars here that’s nowhere to be found anywhere in the world.”