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FORD is mourning the death of Chris Svensson, one of its leading designers who among his many achievements over a 26-year career with the company helped to bring Ford’s regional design centre in Australia into the 21st century as a key cog in the Blue Oval’s global design network.

Australian connection: Ford designer Chris Svensson was born in England but spent almost three years in Australia where he encouraged a young generation of designers with projects such as the Mad Max Interceptor concepts.

English-born Mr Svensson, 53, died on Saturday after a battle with cancer in Detroit where he was Ford global design director for SUVs, trucks and commercial vehicles until, too ill to continue, he retired on July 1.

Ford Motor Company today confirmed Mr Svensson’s passing, saying in a statement: “We are sad to learn of the passing of Ford Design director Chris Svensson. Chris was a talented designer, an inspiring leader and a friend to many people.

“He made countless contributions to Ford during his 26-year career and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

Best known for penning the 1996 Ford Ka when fresh out of college and later overseeing the 2017 Ford GT project with Australian designer Todd Willing, Mr Svensson put his stamp on car design in Australia when he was appointed Ford Asia Pacific and Africa design director in June 2010.

It was during his tenure of almost three years in Australia that Ford rebuilt the Ford Australia Design Centre in Melbourne, turning a dated facility built in the late 1960s into a state-of-the-art studio with modern technologies such as a virtual reality centre for viewing designs – one of only three in the Ford world – and high-tech communications so local designers could communicate and share designs in real time with colleagues around the globe.

Mr Svensson helped to enthuse a new crop of young Australian designers by encouraging them to let their imaginations go wild on vehicles such as a pair of Mad Max Interceptor concepts in 2011.

The so-called Next Generation team led by Mr Willing – who is now Ford Asia Pacific design director – worked after hours on the designs for the concepts inspired by the popular Mad Max movies. They were developed into 40 per cent-sized clay models, complete with realistic graphics.

During his time at Ford Australia, the local team developed the 2015 Ranger update, the Everest and the last Falcon, the FGX.

Mr Willing paid tribute to Mr Svensson, saying: “Chris considered his time at Ford Australia as one of the highlights of his career. I had the pleasure of working for Chris in Europe, Australia and the US where his passion for design, drive for excellence and good taste was always shining through.

“Chris was a great influence on everyone and will be greatly missed.”

A career-long Ford designer whose grandfather was Swedish, Mr Svensson was born in Sunderland, in England’s north, and studied automotive design at Coventry University before completing a master’s degree in automotive design at the Royal College of Art.

After joining Ford in 1992, he was based at the European design centre at Cologne, Germany, where he worked on the first-generation Focus and Mondeo, while also famously coming up with the exterior design theme for the Ka, Puma and Cougar.

In a one-year assignment in Detroit at Ford’s Advanced design studio in 1996-7, Mr Svensson worked on two concept vehicles – the Mercury MC2 and Ford P200 Hydrogen car – while also helping to test new high-tech tools such holographic displays and the latest computer-aided design systems.

In 1997, he moved back to the UK, to Ford’s Dunton design studio, where he oversaw the development of the Ford Fiesta and Fusion.

From there he moved into various design executive roles, including his stint as Asia Pacific and Africa design director from 2010 to 2013, replacing Scott Strong.

After leaving Australia, he was appointed North American exterior design director in 2013 and then design director for the Americas in 2014. It was during the latter role that he oversaw the second-generation Ford GT design project, again working with Mr Willing who is believed to be responsible for the exterior theme.

A concept for the GT supercar was shown at the 2015 Detroit motor show, with production starting in December 2016.

In July last year, Mr Svensson moved on to his final role as global director of SUV, truck and commercial vehicles – a task that would have included ultimate responsibility for the next-generation Ford Ranger and Everest now being brought to fruition by his colleagues in Australia.

Mr Svensson is survived by his wife Sonia and twin daughters Hannah and Ella.

By Ron Hammerton