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Chrysler exec talks Jeep Renegade, attracting talent to Detroit at MICHauto

From: MLive

By Dave Muller

September 23, 2014

DETROIT, MI – Ralph Gilles has been with Chrysler for 22 years, but he said the last five years have been the most interesting.

And that’s after Gilles, who as president and CEO of Motorsports for Chrysler Group LLC oversees about 400 employees at the automaker’s design office in Auburn Hills, said he has seen Chrysler change from about “eight different companies” during his tenure.

“We’ve always tried to be relevant, and that’s an intimidating thing to keep that going,” Gilles said.

Gilles made the remarks Tuesday morning at MICHauto, a day-long summit at the Cobo Center hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber and showcasing Michigan’s talent, innovation and supply chain in the automotive industry.

“It’s gone from an analog world to a digital world right before my eyes,” Gilles said.

Here are some highlights of what Gilles had to say Tuesday:

On Talent
Especially interesting, and pertinent to the MICHauto conference, was hearing Gilles talk about auto-related jobs in the Detroit area and how the industry has been attracting outsiders.

Gilles said that when he’s interviewing outsiders – coming from California to Europe – they often ask curiously, “What’s it like being in Detroit?” He said once the newcomers spend a little time in the city, they go out and “find these little treasures, and they fall in love.”

The College for Creative Studies has been important in fostering and retaining talent, Gilles said, and the Detroit-based school been adding to competition for talent among the Detroit Three automakers.

Clay as a career
Curiously, Gilles said that building clay models of cars is “an unspoken, beautiful career that’s here” in the Detroit area, and the company has been trying to get more students to pursue the vocation at CCS. It’s a trade that also applies to the film industry, Gilles said.

Stalwart Jeep sales
Gilles said that sales of the Jeep brand are doing well, and that includes the all-new Grand Cherokee, despite its “very controversial” design. Later, when asked about the reaction to the SUV’s design, Gilles said, laughing, “I almost cancelled my twitter account.”

Chrysler Group LLC’s vehicle sales in the U.S. in August were no joke. They climbed 20 percent year-over-year last month, marking the automaker’s 53rd straight month of annual sales gains.

And the increase was led by strong showings by the Jeep brand – especially the Cherokee – and by Ram pickup truck sales. Jeep brand sales rose 49 percent. Ram pickup sales climbed 33 percent.

The 2015 Jeep Renegade
Gilles spent a fair amount of his time Tuesday morning talking about the 2015 Jeep Renegade (pictured above), the Jeep brand’s entry into the sub-compact SUV segment, also known as the SUV-B category.

Sales of the car launched in Europe last week. The Renegade is expected to begin arriving at stateside dealerships near the end fo this year, with full inventory being ramped up in 2015.

The Renegade is being built in Italy, but was designed in Michigan and mostly engineered in the Pleasant Peninsula as well, Gilles said. He described the car as “Yummy, like pizza. But not just any pizza. Michigan pizza.”