SANTA BARBARA, California -- Chrysler's new design chief wants to lead the company into a new era of more organic shapes, improved cooperation between design and engineering, and sexier vehicles.
"It's definitely time for a new aesthetic at Chrysler," says Ralph Gilles, newly anointed vice president of design, speaking in an interview at the launch of the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 here. "We're done with the 'Edge' look."
That look characterized recent Chrysler vehicles, including the redesigned fifth generation minivans and SUVs like the Dodge Nitro.
Gilles wants Chrysler products to have a more "organic" look. He pointed to concepts like the Dodge Zeo electric sports car and the Chrysler ecoVoyager as hints of how future Chrysler vehicles might look.
Gilles, 38, was chosen to head Chrysler's design team this week after Trevor Creed, 62, retired. Gilles takes his new post Sept. 1. Creed, a native of Wolverhampton, England, started with Chrysler in 1985 and became design chief in 2000.
Gilles said the leadership change reflects an effort to more closely integrate the design and engineering teams.
Creed reported directly to CEO Bob Nardelli, but Gilles will report instead to Frank Klegon, executive vice president of product development.
Gilles has led Chrysler's advanced interiors design team. The interior of the 2009 Ram is an example of that work. Gilles calls it the best interior ever to come out of Chrysler. Redesigned interiors on the 2009 Jeep Compass and Patriot will further demonstrate Chrysler's new-found focus on interior quality.
He said one of his top priorities going forward will be to "get this monkey off our backs on interiors," and he believes the Ram interior does that. Recent Chrysler vehicles have been criticized for cheap-looking plastic interiors.
Another priority of the Gilles era will be "getting our cars to be sexy again," he said.
Gilles wants future Chrysler products to be "relevant anywhere in the world" so Chrysler's small design team does not have to continually redesign vehicles for different markets.
Gilles is a great admirer of Creed's predecessor, Tom Gale, and said the cab forward look popularized during the Gale era could make a comeback. And Gilles credited Creed with giving him plenty of leeway to grow since Gilles joined Chrysler in 1992.