Peter Horbury

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Peter Horbury is a British car designer currently in charge of all design for the North American Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury. He is probably best known for his design work for Volvo where he was Design Director during 1991 to 2002. He was named UK magazine Autocar’s Designer of the Year in 1998 and during his 30+year career has been actively involved in the design of more than 50 cars as well as trucks, buses and motorcycles.


Born c.1950 in Alnwick, England, Horbury attended King Edward VII School in Sheffield[1] and was coincidentally in the same school year as another prominent British car designer, Ford of Europe's current Executive Director of Design Martin Smith. Horbury went on to study at the Newcastle upon Tyne College of Art, graduating in 1972 with a degree in Industrial Design. Like Smith, he later attended the Royal College of Art in London graduating with a Master's degree in automotive design in 1974.


Early career

Horbury started his career at Chrysler UK and then spent some time at Volvo in the Netherlands, working on the 480 coupe. He has remarked in the past that the Volvo grill under the bumper of the 480 was a last minute addition prior to release, when senior Volvo management realised that the car would not have the classic Volvo grille and slanting highlight. Immediately prior to his longer second 'remarkable'[2] stint at Volvo, Horbury had worked in the United Kingdom for MGA Developments Ltd. In addition he worked on some key Ford product programs in Europe, such as the Sierra, Escort and Granada.

Volvo Cars

Horbury is best known for leading the revival of the Volvo brand during his eleven years from 1991 as Design Director. He arrived too late to influence the 1992 Volvo 850 but made an immediate impact with his 1992 Volvo ECC Concept that would influence Volvo design for years to come. He was instrumental in ditching their traditional boxy look in favour of creating and implementing a stylish new design language for the brand.[3][4] This stylish new look was characterised by distinctive shoulder-lines that ran the length of the car, more curved surfaces, rounded noses, and softer, less utilitarian interiors. He contributed to many designs including the Mitsubishi Carisma related 1995 S40 and V40, the sporty 1997 Volvo C70, which was engineered in collaboration with TWR, closely followed by the 1998 S80. He also contributed to the remaining line up with the 2000 V70 estate, the 2001 S60, the 2003 XC90 SUV, and the 2004 S40 and V50. He also oversaw the 1998 facelift of the Volvo 850 series which transformed them into the Volvo S70 and V70 series. Horbury's last Volvo was the 2006 C30.[5] Ex-Mercedes-Benz designer Steve Mattin assumed the responsibility of Design Director of Volvo in 2005.


In 2002 Horbury was made head of all of Ford's Premier Automotive Group design studios which included Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, and Volvo. With talented designers in charge of each of those brands' design, Horbury had little to do[6] and in January 2004 was promoted to Ford of America as Executive Design Director of all Ford's American brands, reporting to Ford’s group vice president of Design, J Mays. Mays explained the decision:

"We tapped Peter to lead our North American design team for two key reasons: First, he brings to this team nearly three decades of experience as a strong designer and an even better leader. Second, North America remains our most profitable market, and that’s where we need to invest our top design talent. We are more heavily investing in refining the design DNA for this market’s products. So, naturally, I want this team to have even more power to get the job done."[7]

Horbury runs a staff of 800 including Patrick Schiavone and Moray Callum and has been given the daunting task of renewing the design language of all of Ford America's brands in the wake of sliding sales. So far, he has been responsible for the implementation of Ford's 'Red, White and Bold' design strategy that aims to make American Fords more distinctive and unashamedly American in their aesthetic.[8] This is especially the case with the forthright 'Hi I'm Dave'[9] three bar chrome grilles as illustrated by the 2006 Ford Fusion that will slowly adorn all American Ford models. He also plans to give the Lincoln range a similar bold frontal treatment as evidenced by the Lincoln MKR concept (Detroit 2007). The thinking is to infuse Ford's American brands with a boldness that includes American values of strength, optimism, and outgoing-ness in an attempt to make them more appealing to American buyers who are demanding riskier designs that are recognisable from distance.[10]


  1. Old Edwardians, Form 1(4) 1961/62 (photo), accessed 06/02/07
  2. 'Peter Horbury - Changing the Face of Ford', Gary S. Vasilash, Automotive Design & Production [1], accessed 06/02/07
  3. 'People: Peter Horbury - Ford Design Director', Motor Trend, [2], accessed 06/02/07
  4. 'Ford Names Peter Horbury to Oversee North American Brands', Ford Press Release,[3], accessed 06/02/07
  5. 'First Drive: Volvo C30', Alistair Weaver, Edmunds [4], accessed 10/06/08
  6. 'People: Peter Horbury - Ford Design Director', Motor Trend, [5], accessed 06/02/07
  7. 'Ford Names Peter Horbury to Oversee North American Brands', Ford Press Release,[6], accessed 06/02/07
  8. 'Defining American Design', F. de Leeuw van Weenen (ed.), Ford Motor Company, 20 October 2006 [7], accessed 06/02/07
  9. 'Peter Horbury - Changing the Face of Ford', Gary S. Vasilash, Automotive Design & Production, [8], accessed 06/02/07
  10. 'People: Peter Horbury - Ford Design Director', Motor Trend, [9], accessed 06/02/07

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