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The Designers, Pt7 – Ralph Gilles, Chrysler Group

Mon, 23 Jun 2014

Car Design News launched its first-ever Car Design Review yearbook at the Geneva Motor Show, featuring the award-winning Production Car and Concept Car Designs of 2013.

If you're interested in buying a copy of the 160-page yearbook this interview appears in, alongside trend reports, bespoke car design infographics and a special feature on Marcello Gandini, our inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Car Design Review can be purchased here.

Name Ralph Gilles
Role VP design, Chrysler Group
Age, nationality 44, US
Location Michigan, USA
Education Center for Creative Studies, Detroit

"Watching the Cherokee be born in 2013 was a very radical design departure for Jeep. It's very exciting to see a vehicle that you took a risk on succeed in the market place. So far, people who didn't understand or like the car have come around to appreciate it and that means you're doing something where you force a discussion, maybe a change in direction. That was a big moment for us.

"Behind the scenes we're were getting ready for the Chrysler 200 launch too. We're showing it now, but in 2013 we were putting the finishing touches to it. And on the SRT side, which is the other hat I wear, it's been an exciting year in motorsport.

"Watching the Viper do well and start to make inroads into the competition and also launching the Viper itself on the road is very exciting. We sold 600 last year, even with a late-selling start due to self-imposed quality production delays. All in all, 2013 was a very exciting year.

"2014 is going to be even better. We have a lot more product news to come in new spaces for us. The official joining of Fiat-Chrysler is a story that's still writing itself. It's exciting to live in an era when you're making history real-time and you're watching two great companies become a formal unit. We've been together four and a half years and it's been collaborative from day one, so it can only get more so.

"The SRT stuff is very low volume, extremely pin-point to a very enthusiast customer which in some ways is becoming a rare breed. On the other side I have mass-production, huge volume that has to be relevant, sometimes globally, sometimes North America-centric and also multi-brand. There's always a hat-switch in my head. That's why I've always liked working at Chrysler because we have such a variety of product.

"The reason I'm on Twitter is to get closer to customers. I'm fascinated by the customer's mindset. Clearly there's a lot of noise in social media but I've learnt to understand what's noise and what's information. It's very cool, especially getting in touch with the younger generation. Not to mention I can keep in touch with my daughter on it. Sometimes it can be too much information though, a father should be a little ignorant!

"Every product maker, even food companies are looking deeply into the psyche of the millennial customer. Two things are going on. A lot of these young kids are moving into cities. They enjoy the city life but cars are not as practical in deep inner cities. However in suburban cities the car is still hard to beat as a proposition.

"I think it's a life-stage issue. I think the time for them to purchase has probably been delayed and when they do finally purchase a vehicle, they will research it and make a smart purchase. I still think the need is there, the infrastructure is still centered around the automobile. We're going to have to fight for their attention and their needs and we're listening to them and a lot of them we hire.

"We don't have hierarchical structure and that's always been the way with Chrysler. If you have the sketch, you do the car, so you could have been at Chrysler for three months and - this has happened recently - in less than a year you have an entire vehicle to execute. That's what I call a baptism of fire and we do that all the time. We are known for it. I think it's so exciting for young designers to know that if they are talented enough and have the right gumption, we are going to back them up."

Ralph's Cars of 2013


1. Mercedes S-Class Coupé
2. Volvo Coupé Concept
3. Cadillac Elmiraj

"The S-Class Coupé concept was one of the vehicles I wanted to see in person in Detroit. To me, it is the most successful of the new Mercedes shape vocabulary"


1. Jaguar F-Type Coupé
2. Porsche 918 Spyder
3. Alfa Romeo 4C

"The F-Type Coupé I feel, is one of Jaguar's best designs in decades. It is so taut and powerful"

< The Designers Pt6
Laurens van den Acker, Renault

By Guy Bird