CHICAGO -- Chrysler Group, known as the inventor of the minivan and SUV, aspires to regain its own spirit of innovation by emulating Apple Computer.
That was the vision for Chrysler's future outlined by Ralph Gilles, Chrysler's chief design officer and the CEO of the Dodge brand, in a speech today. Gilles said his hero is Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO.
On short notice, Gilles filled in for Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who was called away to sign a deal creating a joint venture to produce vehicles in Russia. Gilles spoke at the Economic Club of Chicago's annual Chicago Auto Show luncheon.
In Marchionne's absence, he paid tribute to his boss, saying Marchionne had given Chrysler the tools and inspiration to return the company to greatness.
Gilles provided tantalizing glimpses of future products, including the next-generation Chrysler 300 sedan, due in December.
“Hopefully, when you see that car, grown men and women will have tears running from their eyes,” Gilles said. “Hopefully, when you see that, you will say, ‘Go, America.' ”
He also showed pictures of the next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee, due in three months.
Gilles talked of winning over a new generation of “millennial” customers, people more interested in social networking than how a car looks. Gilles said his design studios are now filled with designers in their early 20s who “understand the market better than I could ever hope to.”
Gilles cited Chrysler's great heritage of inventing segments but said regaining that magic would not be enough.
“The problem is that every one of those vehicles were one-hit wonders,” he said, referring to vehicles such as the Chrysler Pacifica. “We can't do that anymore. The philosophy at Chrysler is to do every vehicle that way.”
Chrysler wants to get away from designing “me, too” vehicles that look like everything else.
“Branded design is everything -- separating into four distinct brands. We've had too much overlap, too many products that were alike.
“The fear for me is that the automobile becomes a commodity. That's the first nail in the coffin of every product. Our mission is to erase that process so that we never get into that death spiral of becoming a commodity.”