Lincoln's Design Director Kemal Curic Sees Potential in the Electric Future

"I think now is one of the most exciting times to be an automotive designer."


Admittedly, Kemal Curic isn't the first guy you think of when you try to summon up a personage that embodies the Lincoln brand. Assuming you've watched ad-supported television at any point in the last half-decade, you likely associate the Lincoln Motor Company with Matthew McConaughey, star of such films as Fool's Gold and Sahara. McConaughey has been voice and face for the carmaker, bringing his delightfully enigmatic personality to ads and brand events alike.

But while the laconic movie star may be out there convincing everyone that Lincolns are alrite, alrite, alrite, Curic is behind the scenes making damn sure they look that way. As head of design, the 44-year-old design director is in charge of bringing the 100-year-old brand into its next era — one where mighty lumps of iron and steel in the nose don't define a car's design or engineering.

"I feel like we're back in 1880, and the first automobile has been invented," Curic says. "It's a game changer for the designers and engineers."

With electric vehicles, Curic says, the use of space — for example, the way the interior lacks the hump of a gearbox or driveshaft, or the way the cabin can move forward further without an engine up front — becomes much more important, and that works to the benefit of Lincoln's design language. "[It's a chance] to really dive into our sanctuary tenets," he says.

Curic, seen here at the launch of the Lincoln Star concept.
Will Sabel Courtney

Exterior design is also set to change. "There's a few things we're rethinking," Curic says. With no need to cool an engine, the massive chrome grilles that define Lincolns are unneeded, so flexible LED lighting elements are set to define the faces of future cars from the brand instead. (Curic calls lighting "the new chrome.") The Lincoln Star concept seen here offers a taste of what he means: while the glowing elements provide a face for the car when it's in use, when it's off, they vanish — they're hidden behind the paint for a seamless look.

Being a concept car, the Star previews all sorts of elements of Lincoln's future, from the lighting to the interior, which boasts clear influences from the yachting world that Curic admits he finds exciting. The name, however, seems less likely to be carried forward, unless the brand chooses a drastic rethink of its current exploratory naming conventions.


Still, whatever they wind up being called, many, if not most of those new electric Lincolns will be SUVs; some may be big and bulky like the Navigator, others sleek and wagonesque like competitor Cadillac's Lyriq, but they'll be sport-utility vehicles. Not that that will be a change; Lincoln hasn't sold a traditional car in the U.S. since 2020.

Yet while he may have grown up idolizing Shelby Cobras, Curic says he doesn't feel constrained by having to develop SUVs. "Designers, we solve problems. Sedan, SUV or sports car, they all have their challenges. You have to approach it that way," he says.

"I've never seen a designer come up to school and say, “I’m gonna be a sports car designer or sedan driver,” he adds.

Inside the Lincoln Star.

There is one place where Lincoln still sells sedans, however: China. Like General Motors's high-end Buick and Cadillac brands, Lincoln has found 21st Century success in the world's most populous nation. Buyers there have been very clear about what they want, Curic says. “They keep on saying the same thing: they’re insisting on pure American luxury."

That's a familiar job for the brand — and one its design boss can understand. Growing up in Germany and Croatia, Curic says he saw Lincolns as the cars of American icons like presidents and Hollywood stars, the "somehow unattainable" rolling icons of wealth and power. Being distinctly American is what Lincoln does, and what it'll keep doing for years to come — even if its cars are powered by electrons, not gasoline.

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