MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. -- Chrysler Group designers are spending more time in the wind tunnel to make more aerodynamic vehicles, aiding fuel economy, design chief Ralph Gilles said today.
Speaking at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, a gathering of Michigan political and business leaders at this resort island in northern Michigan, Gilles said aerodynamics are becoming an increasingly important design aspect at Chrysler and throughout the industry.
Gilles pointed out that vehicles such as the Audi A7 and the newly redesigned Toyota Avalon have shown that mid-sized sedans can have the aerodynamic design typically associated with sports cars.
"The wind is starting to sculpt these vehicles," Gilles said.
He contrasted those vehicles with the Chrysler 300's boxier design, but Gilles said Chrysler has realized that it will need to follow the industry trend toward sleeker cars. He said the next-generation 200 and 300 also will be sleeker.
"We'll have no choice but to be some of the most wind-swept vehicles that you've ever seen," Gilles said.
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Gilles said his design team spends between 200-300 hours in the wind tunnel (combined, as a team) analyzing a vehicle's aerodynamics during a vehicle's design process. Previously, he said, a design team would only spend around 100 hours in the tunnel.
He added that the automaker is putting more emphasis on hiring people with experience in fluid dynamics as vehicle design takes more advantage of aerodynamics to increase fuel efficiency.
"It's amazing the details, especially if you look at the back of a car," Gilles said. "There are a lot of little flicks and bends that simulate aquatic animals almost."
More collaboration between Chrysler's engineers and designers has been key to the changes, Gilles said. Although the two groups traditionally have been separated, he said that since he took over as head of design last year he has made a point of ensuring teamwork.
He said engineers now have access to the company's design studio and that meetings between the engineers and designers are held in the studio. Gilles said designers and engineers are aware of the other group's challenges and are conscious of that as they work to produce new vehicles.
"It made them much more compassionate about what the ultimate goal was," Gilles said, "and at the same time it grew friendships."
Gilles added that the level of design integration at Chrysler extends to CEO Sergio Marchionne .
Gilles, who reports directly to Marchionne, said it's easier to push for more advanced and less traditional designs when the top man is involved.
He said: "The seas get parted."