Ralph Gilles is one of the highest-ranking executives at Chrysler L.L.C., automaker and producer of the Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands. Gilles, vice president of Chrysler’s product design, is perhaps best known for designing the 2005 Chrysler 300C, which consumers responded to with great fervor when it was introduced. Bedecked with its jeweled chrome finishes, the vehicle’s design led other car companies to follow suit and demonstrated that Chrysler could offer luxury.
Among recent designs, Gilles is responsible for the updated Dodge Ram pickup, the newest Chrysler and Dodge minivans, and the Chrysler 200C battery electric concept vehicle recently unveiled at this year’s Detroit International Auto Show.
Gilles, 38, studied design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and holds a master’s in business administration from Michigan State University. Gilles talked to Black Enterprise.com about auto designing, the state of the industry, and what’s kept him — one of the hottest designers in the industry — loyal to Chrysler.
BlackEnterprise.com: In recent years, Chrysler has had its share of obstacles. How do you keep a positive attitude despite the economic challenges affecting the auto industry?
Ralph Gilles: I’m lucky because I work on the future. I’m at a minimum of two years ahead of what’s out on the market today. It’s kind of frustrating because there’s a lot of work we’ve been doing in the past three years that the media or consumers aren’t able to see just yet … We have to, unfortunately, ignore what’s in the media right now. It’s all negative energy and we try not to get wrapped up in it. At Chrysler, there’s a huge family kind of atmosphere. We’re all in this together, and we’re like one big extended family. I think all of us imagine a time when we can actually look back on this and say, ‘Wow, we made it past this.’ In the 16 years I’ve been at Chrysler, I’ve never seen us do better work than what we’re doing right now.
What types of designs will it take to help Chrysler rebound?
If you take a look at the Chrysler 200C concept we unveiled at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, you will see that the design aesthetic is very organic and fluid. It’s an inspired and soulful look as to where we are headed, from a design standpoint. This is an ideal showcase as to how stunning design, electric vehicle technology, and advance connectivity could be combined on one package.
What do you think sets you apart from other designers in the industry?
I do think that my background is a little different than most because I also have a business degree. As a designer, typically, the design language that we communicate with to others can be a barrier. So, by getting a business degree I’ve tried to help break down the communication barrier in terms of dealing with those in the industry who are not designers.