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We ask Stellantis’s Ralph Gilles why concept cars still matter

2023 New York International Auto Show

There aren’t a ton of automakers doing concept cars anymore. Especially in the traditional sense of a car that looks wild and outrageous, concepts that do exist now are often just production-intent models. But some companies still do crazy concepts, and they still matter immensely to those companies.

One of those companies is Stellantis. Last year we saw the electric Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Banshee concept. We also saw the Ram Revolution concept. Additionally, there’s even a Chrysler Airflow out there, showing the world what Chrysler has in mind.

“It’s an open research clinic,” Ralph Gilles tells us in an interview at the New York Auto Show. “We take feedback from the concepts to help influence our production decisions.”

Photo credit: Stellantis

Gilles is the Chief Design Officer for Stellantis

“When a concept is rooted in some amount of reality, then it has value.”

Gilles is a big name in the car designer world. He frequently attends Mopar events across the country, and die hard Mopar fans seek him out and even ask him to autograph their cars.

“I don’t understand that phenomenon,” Gilles tells us. While Gilles is often the face of design at Stellantis — and a car enthusiast in general — he’s quick to point out the success that his team does as a whole. He mentions more than once in our interview that it’s a team effort and not one individual.

Concepts show the direction that the company is going, and as Gilles mentioned function is a customer clinic. But has any concepts, or features on a concept, debut and then the reaction is either so positive or negative that it changes a decision.

“Yes,” Gilles tells us. “The Challenger came true because it was a concept that people went nuts for.”

Designing vehicles for several different nameplates can’t be the easiest thing in the world, so how does Gilles and his people get in the right mindset?

“We’re working with established, storied brands,” he says. “We spend a day in our customer’s shoes.” He continues that also messaging like Ram’s Built to Serve means something to everyone on the team, and he doesn’t consider it just marketing.

As EVs become more and more a thing, many aspects of the car design and production process change. How does Gilles look for the next great talent for his small team?

“We lately have been going outside the car world,” he says. “I grew my UX team from Carnegie Melon grads. My textiles team came from the fashion industry.”

Gilles looks for something more than just skill set when he’s building the team that’ll build the Stellantis EVs of the future.

“I’m looking for culture builders,” he begins. “People who can integrate. Because it takes a village. That’s the one thing I don’t like about signing cars, it makes it look like I did the whole thing.”

Gilles continues to talk about culture with current designers. When he was up and coming, the industry was very competitive. Now, his design team works together and boosts each other up instead of one person trying to be on top.

“You can be two years junior at the company and be on stage talking about a car.”

This up and coming talent is designing cars for a new age. What about designing an EV is different from designing a gas powered car?

“You don’t have to make the space for a motor,” Gilles obviously states. “That allows us to play with proportion and work on design character.”

While we’re sure the wind tunnel will ultimately dictate some designs, there is some interesting stuff coming out on EV-only platforms that we might not have expected to see before. These designers, regardless of which automaker they are at, are about to have true clean slates to work with and we’re excited to see what they’ll come up with.

Written by Chad Kirchner
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