Ralph Gilles, the design rock star who earned his chops with the Chrysler 300, is now heading the band of designers in Auburn Hills, as he has been named vice president-Design. He replaces Trevor Creed, who retired after 23 years in the design office. Gilles acknowledges Chrysler’s design office has made some mistakes over the past few years, but he’s ready to take corrective action to return the automaker to its former design glory. “There may have been too much direction and too much meddling in the design office in the past few years,” Gilles says. Perhaps more significantly, he acknowledges, “We also were trying to do too much, launching a lot of products over the past three years that were not well executed because our resources were so dispersed. Our focus now is to have half as many products and do them right.” Perhaps Cerberus ownership will have a silver lining for Chrysler design.
Gilles says he wants to infuse a strong team mentality that surpasses the confines of the design office: “We have reached a level where there isn’t that age-old competition between engineering and design and I want that to continue, because my job is not only to get the outside world excited about design, but to get the entire inside world excited about design, too. That makes it so much easier to get additional money for this or that and I want to be that ambassador of design.”
Gilles says his biggest challenge will be to balance the traditional low-cost buyer profile Chrysler has relied on for many years, while still trying to take the company into a more premium position, particularly for the Chrysler and Jeep brands. “In these times, being a value company can be a good thing. We need to be able to infuse a bit of Target panache at a Wal-Mart price, if you will,” Gilles says.—KMK