Catch­ing Up With …

JEEP DE­SIGN CHIEF

Automobile - - Contents - By Todd Lassa

As the head of Jeep de­sign, Mark Allen has an im­por­tant but chal­leng­ing po­si­tion.

AS FIAT CHRYSLER’S head of Jeep de­sign, some would say Mark Allen has the best job in the world. Some would also say he has the least en­vi­able job in the world be­cause redesign­ing the iconic Jeep Wran­gler is like redesign­ing the Porsche 911. How do you com­pletely redo an icon with­out an­ger­ing the hard­core en­thu­si­asts who have made the model what it is? To find out, we spoke with Allen fol­low­ing the un­veil­ing of the all-new 2018 Jeep Wran­gler JL.

How much has the four-door Wran­gler changed Jeep?

MA: Be­fore the Un­lim­ited, we sold Wran­glers in the spring and sum­mer. The Un­lim­ited be­came a car for daily use, and it sur­prised even us.

Sort of like go­ing from a sports car to fam­ily car.

MA: It’s like, “Hey, I want to get a Wran­gler. I can bring the kids now.” The old Wran­glers used to be cross-shopped against a speedboat. My Wran­gler, I drive it in the sum­mer. That’s about it.

So the Un­lim­ited al­lows you to spend more time and money on de­vel­op­ing things that keep the hard­core set happy?

MA: It cer­tainly helped. It’s gotta have up­dates. Sim­ple things, like the door needs to shut it­self. Right? And that’s cus­tomer feed­back. “I hate the door han­dle. I hate how the door shuts. Give me crea­ture com­forts.”

Will there be blow­back from the hard­core Jeep fans who don’t like the door to shut it­self ?

MA: I saw it hap­pen when we did TJ. “Oh, you put a reg­u­lar dash­board in it, and you put coil springs on it. Oh, it’s ru­ined for­ever.” And then I saw it on JK, and it’s like, “Oh, you’ve ru­ined it with four doors.” We still sell a Sport, and it’s very pop­u­lar. Roll-up win­dows, a ba­sic ra­dio, HVAC, and the locker switches. No mat­ter what, it’s a cheap con­vert­ible. Right?

Is a man­ual trans­mis­sion a non­starter for the se­ri­ous off-roader? Who wants to op­er­ate a clutch when you’re rock crawl­ing?

MA: If you want to start an ar­gu­ment, go with that line. We didn’t put an au­to­matic in a Jeep un­til prob­a­bly the ’70s. I drive a man­ual off-road, and I won’t drive an au­to­matic. I can get out of my Jeep in first gear and walk faster than it goes.

That kind of de­bate keeps the brand go­ing, right?

MA: Two doors. Four doors. Hard top. Soft top. Ru­bi­con. Sport. All of that. Bring it.

How much harder or eas­ier was it to re­design the Wran­gler com­pared with other Jeep mod­els?

MA: We were want­ing to get our teeth into it. There were a lot of things about it that had been both­er­ing me that we were anx­ious to get to. If you look down the side, the door han­dles and hinges are aligned now. The hood now goes out straight rather than drop­ping. The sec­tions are more gen­er­ous. This car’s just more ma­tured and re­laxed than the JK.

So you spent the first part of the de­sign process go­ing through all the far-out ideas?

MA: We prob­a­bly spent the rst three to four months sketch­ing. ... We pa­pered the walls in here. Mild to wild. But what we chose was based more on au­then­tic­ity and long life. You can do some­thing that’s more rad­i­cal here, but it will look good for about a year.

How rad­i­cal?

MA: We had some [where] the whole quar­ter was plas­tic. Maybe the fender crawled onto the hood a lit­tle bit. Even dif­fer­ent grille shapes and lamp shapes, stuff like that, just to put us right where we were. I’ve got a lot of young de­sign­ers in the room, and I had to be the voice of rea­son to come back, even with my boss, who’s al­ways push­ing, like he rightly should.

Do you start with the two-door and then move to the Un­lim­ited?

MA: The two-door is the one we re­ally love to draw be­cause re­ally it’s the off-road sports car. I don’t know who gets credit for the CJ, but it’s ob­vi­ous to me there were sketches done, there was clay work done, be­cause there’s form in it. And I think that’s when they got it right.

What didn’t you get?

MA: Rid of the metal an­tenna.

What’s your fa­vorite se­cret de­sign el­e­ment?

MA: No se­cret, the face is a big deal. And cham­pi­oning the fold­ing wind­shield [and mak­ing it eas­ier to fold down]. Man­u­fac­tur­ing hated it just for paint­ing the car and han­dling that wind­shield. We’re keep­ing it. It’s the key on the left of the 911. It’s the mo­tor be­hind the axle.

I’ll read in on­line fo­rums, “I never fold mine down.” Well, be­cause we made it so hard. It’s wind in the face. It’s great for nav­i­gat­ing off-road. It’s just ... the same rea­son I had to pull the doors off, right?

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