DodgeTalk Forum banner

Status
Not open for further replies.
1 - 7 of 7 Posts

·
Originating Member
Joined
·
35,160 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Chrysler star tackles trucks

from a report in the Wall Street Journal
Designer of popular 300 will now put his personal stamp on a revamped Dodge Ram.


Chrysler Group executive Ralph Gilles, one of the hottest designers in the auto industry, did so well on his last assignment -- heading the studio that produced the Chrysler 300, one of the most eye-catching sedans to come out of Detroit in decades -- that his bosses have rewarded him with what might be an even bigger challenge: reinventing pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles amid falling sales.

Gilles, Chrysler Group's new vice president of Jeep/Truck and Component Design, knows he faces a tough task. The pickup-truck segment had seen softening in recent months because of high gasoline prices, and sales have fallen by 10.4 percent through October, according to Autodata Corp. Some consumers who once considered a large pickup as a replacement for a conventional sedan appear to be having second thoughts, industry analysts say. Large SUVs have also taken a hit, while sales of midsize SUVs, the category that includes the Jeep Grand Cherokee, have been in free fall as consumers shift toward smaller SUVs and sedans.

At the same time, the competition is intensifying. General Motors Corp. has launched redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks. And a revamped Toyota Tundra -- Toyota Motor Corp.'s first serious attempt to compete in the full-size pickup-truck market in the U.S. -- will be introduced next year.

Auto analyst Kevin Tynan of Argus Research Co. says although pickup-truck buyers are the most loyal of any other segment, Asian automakers have proved in the past that they can take away market share from the domestic manufacturers. "I don't think the domestic manufacturers have faced the most intense competition yet," Tynan says. "It's going to get even more difficult."

Chrysler Group, a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, is also under intense pressure to produce product hits as it tries to turn itself around from the $1.48 billion operating loss it reported for the third quarter and reduce an inventory glut, particularly in the SUV and pickup-truck segments. In October, sales for the Chrysler Group fell by 3 percent while domestic rivals made gains.

Launch of Ram crucial

The 36-year-old Gilles (pronounced jeels) admits he has never been a truck kind of guy. So he has been researching pickup trucks for one of the first places on which he will put his personal stamp: a revamped Dodge Ram. The launch of a new Ram is crucial for the Chrysler Group because the truck is the biggest selling model line for the company. Year-to-date sales through October have weakened by 11.8 percent, according to Autodata.

Last year, Gilles went down to Texas for three days to immerse himself in America's largest pickup-truck market, which included a night at Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth. At the self-described "world's largest honky tonk" where there are Willie Nelson concerts and live bull riding, Gilles hung out with Billy Bob's customers to talk to them about how they use their pickup trucks and how the vehicles could be improved.

"These were cowboys, but they were fashion-conscious. I left there feeling supercharged," says Gilles, a sports-car fanatic who used to spend his spare time racing a Dodge Viper before he switched to a Spec Neon.

A laid-back guy who watches "Desperate Housewives," Gilles occasionally swears during meetings and often jokes with colleagues. During a meeting to review a future SUV, he jokingly put his head on a colleague's shoulder who said he could meet one of Gilles's requests.

Mike Donoughe, vice president of Chrysler's body-on-frame product team, describes Gilles's style as one of relaxed intensity. "He's hyperkinetic," Donoughe says. "And what that translates to is he doesn't come across as stuffy, so that opens up channels of communication that otherwise might be closed."

Gilles a role model

Because of his quick ascent at Chrysler, Gilles, a Canadian native of Haitian descent, has become a role model for aspiring car designers and for young Haitians. He has been asked to be head of the Haitian Day parade in Miami and gave a high-school commencement speech earlier this year.

Though only 36, Gilles considers himself an old-timer at Chrysler with 14 years at the automaker.

His latest project, the Dodge Ram, now stands out in the segment with a big-fendered, blocky front end.

For the future Ram, Gilles says he is focusing on giving the truck a more aerodynamic design, which will improve fuel economy and will be tested in Chrysler's $37.5 million wind tunnel. (He says the design team spent three months working on the side-view mirrors on the Chrysler 300 to maximize aerodynamics.)

The trend in trucks and SUVs in recent years has been to make them look tougher, bolder and more aggressive with each redesign. But Gilles says you can only take that so far before it becomes cartoonish.

The future Dodge Ram will still look bold and aggressive. But Gilles also notes that pickup trucks, like cars, are becoming more like homes, with contractors needing space for files and room for a laptop computer. That means designers will spend a lot of time focusing on a refined interior with technological features, like an iPod adapter.

Gilles is also closely examining the letters and pictures he receives from truck owners. Impressed by shots of a souped-up 2002 Dodge Ram, he called the owner in Maryland and spent 20 minutes talking to him about what he did to the truck and why.

According to Gilles, the perfect design is one of timeless beauty and one that creates tension but doesn't scare a consumer away. "I've turned down designs that were too good, too pleasing," he says.

"I like designs that some people will love and some people will hate. It has to stimulate you one way or another."

His other big project is monitoring consumer reaction to the new Jeep Compass and Patriot SUVs. He says the small sport-utility vehicles will show where Chrysler can take the Jeep brand, which has long been known for its rugged vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler. Because of the struggling market for full- and midsize SUVs, the Jeep brand has seen sales drop by 3.9 percent through October, according to Autodata.
 

·
C HEMI GO
Joined
·
1,739 Posts
I saw this guy on a program dealing with the Viper (he was one of the main designers of the 2003 viper as well as the above mentioned 300). He is pretty cool and a major fanboy.

My suggestion: put in your preorders now.
 

·
Jeep Driver
Joined
·
32,497 Posts
Ralph isn't going to design the next Ram; he's going to head the department that does. There's a big difference between the two.

I think the guy is nothing short of brilliant and may end up running the corp. someday -- but if DCX drops the ball on big pickup design during his tenure that future could be in jeopardy.
 

·
Originating Member
Joined
·
35,160 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
FreeLantz said:
... but if DCX drops the ball on big pickup design during his tenure that future could be in jeopardy.
I totally agree ....

the Ram has been good to Dodge for the last 10 years or so

very good IMO
 

·
C HEMI GO
Joined
·
1,739 Posts
They just have to remember:
- Drop the headlights
- Angry crosshair grill
- big horsepower
- make it looks mean
- add nifty gadgets too
 

·
Ultimate Design
Joined
·
2,268 Posts
They got the 2002 year Ram correct in that article but the time was 33 minutes for that phone call. :cool: the swearing is correct along with alot of "no comments"
 

·
AirFuelEddie
Joined
·
5,443 Posts
I hope they stay with the trademark crosshair grill! At least our trucks look like trucks and not g.m. or phords lovely products. Make it more powerfull than we need, more american than the others, and more reliable so they dont have to worry about steenking car sales! :gr_patrio
 
1 - 7 of 7 Posts
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top