DETROIT -- Chris Nowak has been an engineer at Chrysler Group for almost 30 years and has worked on some of the automaker's best-known vehicles: the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Dakota and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
His ties to Jeep began in 1987 when the former Chrysler Corp. bought Jeep's parent company, American Motors. And he is proud that some of his Chrysler colleagues at the time mistook him for a Jeep engineer.
Nowak was designing four-wheel-drive parts for Dodge pickups when Chrysler acquired AMC.
"We were one of the first groups that got integrated with AMC," the soft-spoken 53-year-old engineer said of his team of Dodge engineers. "I take a lot of pride in that a lot of people thought I was an old AMC guy vs. an old Chrysler guy."
Nowak's pedigree -- he also had development responsibility for big parts of the 1999 Grand Cherokee -- can make a difference to loyal Jeep customers. They are the targets for Nowak's current task, leading Mopar's aggressive expansion of Jeep performance parts.
He is developing lift kits, which raise the body off the suspension to provide more off-road clearance, suspension components, crate engines and accessories for Jeep vehicles.
Mopar, Chrysler's parts and service brand, plans to add about 50 high-end Jeep accessories each year to its catalog of about 400 factory-certified Jeep accessories.
Mopar's Jeep parts and accessories lineup competes in a multibillion-dollar aftermarket industry. But the factory parts have an advantage: Consumers who buy Mopar parts and have them installed at a dealership or the factory keep their warranties intact.