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Jeep Renegade's development a template for new Fiat Chrysler Auto

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 16:29:00 EST

"We figured we'd take the best of both worlds." – Ralph Gilles.

The international makeup of the 2015 Jeep Renegade will serve as a template for cooperation within the newly formed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Senior Vice President of Product Design Ralph Gilles said.

The Renegade is Jeep's first small crossover and the brand's attempt to lure new and younger buyers. It was designed in the United States, but is built in Italy on a Fiat platform shared with the 500L. Unlike the Fiat, though, it has two available four-wheel-drive systems, a familiar seven-slot grille and a pair of available open-air roof features, all characteristics that designers argue make it a legitimate Jeep.

Gilles said the Renegade's development was a test case – that succeeded – in Fiat and Chrysler product teams working together. "We figured we'd take the best of both worlds," he said at MICHauto, a day-long industry summit in Detroit on Tuesday.

The new Jeep's development spurred different ideas about the brand, Gilles said. While Chrysler's American designers and engineers had a traditional, rough-and-tough view for the Renegade, Europeans saw it as an edgier city vehicle. "It's kind of this urban jungle-fighter machine," he recalled.

It also raised some challenges, like packing the many interior conveniences and features Americans demand into the tight layout of a European platform. We had to rethink how we do cars," Gilles said. "We've never had a space problem before."

Fitting for Jeep's international DNA, the Renegade will be sold in more than 100 countries, a wide swath for the brand which is growing handsomely overseas. That mirrors the ambitions of FCA itself – the automaker will have a far-flung footprint, with production, engineering and design largely staying in their traditional locations in Europe and America, while the new headquarters will be in London and the company will be registered in the Netherlands.

Perhaps even more important than its multicultural roots, the Renegade will also serve as the new gateway for Jeep, which wants to capture buyers from the Millennial Generation. Many of the designers who worked on the new ute where in their 20s and 30s, and see the automobile as a "device," Gilles said.

"We put a Millennial crew on it," he said. "They designed it for themselves in a certain way."

Other Notes and Quotes

Gilles, who also heads Chrysler's motorsports program, touched on a variety of subjects.

On marketing Chrysler's Detroit roots:
"We don't want to make commodities. We want to export goodness from Detroit. We want people to desire our products. He later added, "everything we do matters to the sustainability of Detroit."

On the evolution of the modern design process:
"It's gone from an analogue world to a digital world, right before my eyes."

On the Renegade's international makeup:
"It's yummy. Just like pizza, but not just any pizza. Michigan pizza. The idea is people will keep coming back after they get a taste of this thing."

On the reborn Cherokee's design:
"I almost canceled my Twitter account. It was controversial. We called it tension. It was a love-hate relationship."

"In terms of the future, stay tuned."

On Jeep's roots:
This vehicle was invented as a vehicle for war ... but it still to this day inspires."

By Greg Migliore

See also: Chrysler and Google launch virtual 200 factory tour [w/video], Fiat Chrysler global HQ lands in London's ultra-posh West End, Dodge Viper saved from crusher by students, but will it last?.