J Mays

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J Mays (born October 15, 1954 in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, U.S.) is currently the Group Vice President of Global Design and Chief Creative Officer at Ford Motor Company. His name is simply "J", named after his grandfather S J Mays.

J Mays is a car designer who is linked to many revolutionary and game-changing products around the globe. His name, of course, would be included on a list of the most influential automobile designers of the modern era.

As the designer of Concept One, the concept precursor to Volkswagen's new Beetle, Mays is responsible for helping to revive Volkswagen's presence in North America. Mays is known for his evolutionary designs that reinvent timeless classics like the Volkswagen Beetle, the Ford Mustang and the Ford Thunderbird. The New Beetle and Mustang proved to be enormous successes, as have his other works such as the Ford Flex,Ford Fusion(Europe),500,Freestyle and Jaguar XF.


Mays' love of cars began nearly at birth. Born in rural Oklahoma, Mays started working at his family's auto-parts store at an early age. After school, one could find a junior J Mays dusting, sweeping and straightening the shelves. If not racing cars on the go-cart track behind the shop, Mays was drawing cars. As early as first and second grade, Mays' drawing prowess was evident in the precise gradiations, shadows and geometric shapes he created.

While attending Maysville High School in Maysville, Oklahoma, Mays enrolled in an occupational drafting program at Mid-America Technology Center in Wayne, with aspirations of architecture. After high school, he studied commercial art at the University of Oklahoma before briefly switching to journalism. It was design, however, that would resurface as his life-long ambition. Mays graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in 1980 with a Bachelor of Science degree in transportation design. As such, many of Mays' designs have been influenced by his experiences in Southern California.

Automotive design

Mays worked on the Audi 100 design team.

Volkswagen AG

Mays was scouted heavily upon his Art Center graduation, and began his career at Audi AG, a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG, in Ingolstadt, Germany. Mays' selection was based on the company's emphasis on aerodymanics and its reputation as a maker of technically superior automobile. Mays began as an exterior designer and joined the team working on the Audi 100, Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Polo, and the Audi Cabriolet. After a brief stint at BMW in Munich where he worked on designs for the 5 Series and 8 Series cars, he returned to Audi the following year as head designer.

In 1991, the Mays-designed Audi Avus Quattro concept car was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show and caused quite a sensation. The Avus, named for the 1930s grand-prix racetrack in Berlin, has gull-wing doors, a body of polished aluminum, and a snug cockpit handcrafted in red leather and gray suade. Its sleek, sensual shape immediately evokes the design of the great German speed-record cars and gran turismo roadsters of the 1930s. The Avus proved to be significant for both Audi and Mays. The form of the Avus led to the development of Audi's TT, designed by Mays' Art Center colleague and head of Ford Strategic Design Freeman Thomas. For Mays, the Avus put him on the global map as an accomplished and provocative designer. It also created the Mays' hallmark of explicitly referencing vehicles from important historical periods in his designs.

Mays headed the VW Concept One project.

A year prior to Avus' reveal in Tokyo, Mays was asked by Volkswagen-Audi to relocate to Southern California to open a design studio for the company. Because of his California background, he was specifically tasked to define "California trends" and incorporate them into the design of a German automobile. There, he began a revolutionary formula that integrated the marketing disciplines of branding, identity, and advertising with design. This work in set him apart as a new breed in automotive design.

His work led him to the strong emotional customers had for the original Beetle, sold in the United States in 1949. Mays was convinced that a new Beetle could help Volkswagen recapture the popularity and commercial success it had enjoyed. Mays and his team, including Thomas, developed a form language for the new concept tht included words like "simple," "honest," and "reliable." Armed with a collection of words, the team began sketching, with Mays' original drawing of three, truncated, intersection circles with a large circle in the center and two smaller ones of equal size flanking it. This diagram became the side view of Concept One.

Concept One was first shown at the 1994 North American International Auto Show. Since the release of the new Bettle, the company's profits have increased by fifty percent.

He returned to Germany in 1993 as Audi’s design director responsible for the company's worldwide design strategy, development and execution.

SHR Perceptual Management

Mays became vice president of Design Development for SHR Perceptual Management, an ideation, branding and design consultancy that worked for numerous automotive companies, including Ford.

The latest Ford Thunderbird, another example of J Mays retrofuturistic design.
The Lincoln Blackwood debuted in concept car form at the 1999 LA Auto Show, but the 2002 vehicle proved to be a commercial failure.

Ford Motor Company

Replacing Jack Telnack as global Vice President of Design of the Ford Motor Company in 1997, Mays has worked on the limited production Ford GT, Mustang Bullitt, Super Crew, Escape Hybrid and Edge.

Mays is responsible for shaping the global design direction of Ford Motor Company’s eight global brands—Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar, and Aston Martin. After assuming an expanded role in January 2005, Mays works with individual brands to create and support more long-range strategic design visions. After the sale of Jaguar and Land Rover, Mays' will continue to work on developing a true global design DNA for the Blue Oval.

Mays' design vision for Ford has been demonstrated in his concept cars, the Ford Fairlane, the Shelby GR-1, the 427, the Ford Forty-Nine, the Ford 021C, Jaguar F-Type, Lincoln MKR, and the Volvo Safety Car Concept. In addition, he has been instrumental in the production of several key new production models including the Aston Martin DB9, Land Rover LR3/Discovery, Ford Shelby Cobra GT500, Ford Flex, Ford F-150, Lincoln MKS, Ford Fiesta.

During his tenure with Ford, he received numerous professional awards and recognition for his designs. Mays’ design philosophy and a cross-section of his vehicles were the subject of an exhibition called "Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays" at the Geffen Contemporary of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in November 2002. In addition, he received the Harvard Design School annual Excellence in Design Award in February 2002. In September 2002, he received the Don Kubly Professional Attainment Award from the Art Center.


  • Corporate biography, Ford Motor Company's media website [1]
  • Hodge, Brooke; Armi, C. Edson (2002). Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays. New York: Universe. ISBN 0-7893-0822-3.
  • Review of the MOCA-LA exhibit, by Artfacts.net [2]