Three years ago, Ralph Gilles was named Global Head of Design at Fiat Chrysler, a post responsible for steering design across the company’s entire brand portfolio. In practical terms, Gilles has a hand in the look and feel of every new Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Fiat, Alpha Romeo and Maserati that rolls off the line.
It’s a formidable responsibility. But one that Gilles is uniquely equipped to tackle with his winning combination of hard work, humility and spot-on instincts for design that’s both accessible and aspirational.
The freedom we get from a car is something special. When I get into a car, it’s like borrowing Superman’s cape for a day.
Gilles began preparing for this job as soon as he was old enough to put pencil to paper and sketch the cars that captured his imagination as a boy growing up in Montreal. Though his traditionalist Haitian-born father tried to direct him toward a career in engineering. Thanks in part to his artistically-minded aunt and Lee Iacocca’s ubiquitous 1970’s TV commercials, Ralph’s outsized talent propelled him into his dream job designing cars at Chrysler right out of college. He’s worked there ever since.
Over the past the two and a half decades, Gilles has been the guiding force behind the company’s popularity with car enthusiasts from across the demographic spectrum. His aesthetic is nothing if not memorable. During his tenure at FCA, he’s been responsible for some of its most iconic and successful vehicles, including the Chrysler 300, the SRT Viper and, most recently, the Dodge Ram.
For this high-octane episode of Change Lab, Ralph and Lorne sat down in a funky old music studio in Detroit (where Pete Townsend and Ray La Montagne recently recorded) to discuss Ralph’s supernova career at Chrysler, his passion for designing cars with human characteristics and his vision for the automotive future. Hint: it’s sustainable, increasingly (but not entirely) automated and designed with love and attention to every last detail.