Designing Detroit: profiles of big three: these leaders in automotive design add zing to the cars we drive.

Author:Von Buskirk, Wensdy

Automotive designers--rock stars in the design world. Car enthusiasts around the globe dream of scoring a coveted spot on the design teams of the Detroit Three.

It's a calling that requires conceptualizing, sketching, sculpting, digital modeling and engineering. It incorporates branding, exhibit design, graphic design, digital photography and animation. Automotive designers work with almost every material imaginable, from metal, wood and plastic to textiles and electronic interfaces.

Then, they let their creations loose on the open road.

Their work must function as an aesthetic but also function as a safe and reliable product that can be used every day and ultimately taken for granted. But it also has the potential to capture imagination, unlock adventure and embody the American Dream.

Here, the Detroiter profiles three men at the top of their game about their backgrounds, their design philosophies, their best road trips, and of course, their favorite cars.


Ralph V. Gilles, Chrysler Group

President and Chief Executive Officer, Dodge Car Brand; Senior Vice President-Product Design

Hometowns: New York City & Montreal

Current home: Leonard, Mich.

Favorite drive: Pacific Coast Highway; Tail of the Dragon; Saugatuck to Traverse City

Favorite car: Viper

Ralph Gilles went straight to the top to pursue his childhood dream of becoming an automotive designer. At age 14, he e-mailed sketches to Lee Iacocca.

That initial query garnered a response, and after moving to Detroit to attend College for Creative Studies, Gilles scored a job at Chrysler and worked his way up from there.

Today, he's ushering in a virtual rebirth of the Dodge brand. In the space of two months, starting in January, Dodge will introduce six all-new or significantly redesigned vehicles, including the anticipated Durango.

"We're taking the brand much younger, giving it a sportier image and higher quality execution both exterior and interior," he says. When it comes to his own work, Gilles is inspired by pop culture, anthropology, his travels to auto shows around the world, and most of all his own staff.

"They're an absolute gold mine of ideas," he says.

Gilles also is deeply influenced by fellow car enthusiasts. He loves to race Vipers as much for the thrill as the camaraderie with others who share his passion for the brand.

"It's really good to hang out with them and get feedback," he said.

J Mays, Ford Motor Company

Vice President, Design, and Chief Creative...

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