Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz AG may swap designers, but the merging automakers will maintain separate design identities, says a Chrysler design executive.
'It is not our intent to meld the two departments,' says Neil Walling, Chrysler's director of exterior, minivan and car design.
He said there is some anxiety over the merger within Chrysler, but 'not much of that is on the surface.'
If shareholders approve 18 September, DaimlerChrysler AG could be operating by early December. It will be the world's fifth-largest automaker by volume. 'If I were a 28-year-old designer just starting out at Chrysler,' says Walling, 'I would think it would be beneficial to get some European experience.'
Chrysler is considering having its own European design studio. Daimler-Benz has studios in Italy and Japan as well as Stuttgart, Germany. Chrysler's design department of 350 is not involved in merger preparations, although John Herlitz, vice president of product design, is part of the formal integration effort.
The companies' design departments are surprisingly compatible, says Walling. Each automaker takes some design risks, yet each sticks to evolutionary change for vehicles steeped in tradition.
Mercedes-Benz sedan redesigns and Chrysler's Jeep designs are evolutionary, says Walling. Both automakers also gamble on design innovation.
Chrysler took a chance with the Dodge Ram pickup's heavy-truck look, and Plymouth saluted hot-rod culture with the Prowler. Daimler-Benz took risks with the A-class and the Smart car.
'The A-class is a fairly risky design,' says Walling. 'And from a design standpoint, the ML320 sport-utility is very stylish.'
Walling's favorite Mercedes-Benz vehicles are the SLK roadster and the ML320 sport-utility. 'I haven't seen the new S-class in the flesh yet,' he said, 'but the direction it is going - slimmer, trimmer, lighter and more efficient - is good.'