The boy racer who, luckily, never grew up raced to the top

The brains behind Ford's triumphant Mondeo and popular new Escort is a 43-year-old Welshman, now the firm's vice-president. He spoke to Phil Llewellin

Thirty and more years ago, Richard Parry-Jones and thousands of other Welsh children waved and cheered as the IRAC Rally passed through places with such tongue-tangling names as Betws-y-Coed. He was a bright boy, good at maths and physics. The sight and sound of those cars, driven by such heroes as Erik Carlsson and Roger Clark, helped steer him to a career in the motor industry.

This 43-year-old engineer from Bangor, Gwynedd, is now one of the main keys to Ford's future. The erstwhile amateur rally driver is the vice- president responsible for the multi-national giant's worldwide small and medium vehicles. His operation accounts for 2.5 million vehicles a year - about 40 per cent of Ford's total production - and had a $26bn turnover in 1994. The man whose first drives were on an Anglesey beach in his father's pre-war Austin Seven now flies to America twice a month, and to Germany twice a week. He keeps an eye on the burgeoning Brazilian market, and has a team based in Japan, but still finds time to motor 30,000 miles a year, to ride his Suzuki SR1000 motor cycle, and to walk in Snowdonia.

The motor industry's upper echelons contain men whose business is business. They would be equally content and successful selling cornflakes or concrete. At the other extreme, Mr Parry-Jones is a 24-carat car man whose infectious enthusiasm is expressed with typically Welsh fervour and humour. He laughs a lot.

"This job is a bit of a problem, in a way," he smiles, "Don't tell my bosses this, but imagine being paid to do what I'd do for nothing. It's true!"

It is easy to visualise the boy who could identify every car "Make, model, year, the lot" - by the time he was 10. His parents were keen drivers who read Motoring News and took their sons to the annual Gold Cup race at Oulton Park. Richard and his brother used to estimate market share - "We didn't know it was called that, of course" - by counting how many Fords, Austins, Vauxhalls and so forth they spotted during a journey.

His first car was a Mini 850. This, he recalls with a laugh, was "thrashed without mercy" on the "absolutely fantastic" roads of Wales.

At school, his physics master scoffed at the idea of a career in the motor industry but the young man's talent and enthusiasm were appreciated by Ford, who sponsored his course at Salford University. Landmarks since then have included two years in the United States and being in charge of manufacturing operations at Ford's factory in Cologne.

As the European operation's chief engineer, responsible for development and testing, he played a key role in making the Mondeo a car whose handling characteristics attracted almost universal praise and set new standards for the "repmobile". This was rewarded in 1993, when Autocar magazine presented the Welshman with its Man of the Year award. The citation described him as "responsible for changing the culture of one of the world's biggest corporations" and said the Mondeo "offers the ordinary motorist unmatched refinement and dynamics".

Identical sentiments were expressed earlier this year, when motoring writers tested the latest Ford Escort. Mr Parry-Jones and his team had turned an unexceptional car into one that was considerably more refined and much better to drive. I wondered if the previous Escort's popularity was proof that the typical customer is unconcerned about any of the esoteric features and characteristics that concern professional critics. The vast majority of car buyers are not enthusiasts, I said. Don't they regard the car as little more than a glorified domestic appliance on wheels? Mr Parry-Jones shook his head.

"I don't subscribe to the theory that cars are like washing machines," he asserted, glancing towards the many motorsport photographs that decorate his spacious office at Ford's research and development centre in Essex. "There's a danger of radically underestimating the degree of interest and pleasure that the vast majority of customers get from their cars as a bonus on top of the transport function that is the reason for their purchase.

"Sure, the vast majority of people buy a car to get from place to place. But I am firmly convinced that they also appreciate the difference between mediocrity and something worth having. How many people polish the washing machine on a Sunday? The car is one of the world's most exciting and emotionally provocative products. The prospect of shopping for one really excites most people."

Obsessed with driving characteristics, he has forged a formidable alliance with Jackie Stewart, the triple world champion who is Ford's most famous consultant.

"Even the average driver will appreciate the difference between a car that is just, say, adequate and one that has been refined and honed to a level of excellence," Mr Parry-Jones contends. "I don't think there's a conflict between what the enthusiast wants and what the average driver will appreciate. For instance, it just so happens that one of the nice things about physics is that if you reduce friction in a steering system, to improve the enthusiastic driver's perceptions, most other drivers will also agree that it's better. The difference is that they, unlike the enthusiast, don't know why it's better, which is fair enough. They don't need to know it's nicer because the friction's been reduced.

"Cars that are well developed have a friendly, feel-good factor. Good steering is friendly to all drivers, because it gives a feeling of security. It develops a bond of trust between the car and its driver."

His vice-presidential brief extends from design and development to customer satisfaction and, of course, profitability. The business issues are the biggest challenge, he says. Anyone can make a good car that loses money because customers can't afford it. A major part of the challenge involves cost-effective ways of maintaining the car's acceptability.

"The car is becoming more and more a victim of its own success," he says. "One of the great challenges, especially for those of us who are enthusiasts, is to do everything we can to lessen the car's impact on society - the noise, air pollution, congestion. We must make it a very acceptable and valued part of the infrastructure, as opposed to the negative image it might acquire if we don't pay attention to it.

"None of this is in conflict with what the enthusiast wants. The fact of the matter is that cars have become more fun to drive while also becoming cleaner, safer and quieter. We must maintain that progress. I am aware that there are things scientists might say can't be done. The engineer's job - my job - is to find a way."

Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

    £300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

    High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

    £70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

    Teaching Assistant

    £50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

    Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments