J Mays (TRAN, ’80)
“Design for meaning, not just style.”
The name J Mays often appears on lists of the most influential car designers of our time. Upon graduating from Art Center in 1980, he went straight to Audi Germany. He would spend the next 14 years with Audi, working on vehicles including the Audi 100, the Volkswagen Golf, the Volkswagen Polo and the Audi AVUS concept car. Among the accomplishments for which he’s best known is the Volkswagen Concept One, which was eventually produced as the new VW Beetle. In 1998, Mays joined Ford Motor Company as Head of Design. He leads a team of 1,400 people as he oversees the seven brands: Aston Martin, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mazda, Mercury and Volvo.
What led you to a career in transportation design?
I was doing so poorly in journalism school at the University of Oklahoma that I had to find another profession. By complete accident, I found out there was a place you could go to learn to draw cars, and that grown men could actually get paid to do this.
What do you see as your most exciting career achievement?
I’d say surviving is my most exciting career achievement. I’ve been in the auto industry for 28 years—it’s hard to believe—and I’ve had the opportunity to work on some wonderful cars. But the growing process of going from Art Center to Audi, and helping to be a part of the team that created the design DNA that’s still on the road at Audi and then being given the opportunity at Ford Motor Company to be responsible for seven fantastic brandsâ€¦ That was an unbelievable milestone in my career, too.
Where do you see transportation design going?
It’s very easy to see that we’re going to be driving considerably more fuel-efficient cars in the next 5-10 years. That mindshift has finally taken hold in the U.S. in the last few months. Though we know how to design fuel-efficient cars in Europe, now we’re going to be able to do it in the U.S. A smaller, fuel-efficient vehicle in the U.S. will be a different animal. Europeans drive from point A to point B, while Americans live in their cars.