Mark Allen has the great job of heading up the Jeep® design studios. He is a diehard Jeep enthusiast that loves off-roading and likes to play in the dirt. He commonly refers to Jeep as the “fun” brand and understands the lifestyle and history of this 70 year old legendary nameplate. Mark began his career at Chrysler in 1994 and started out in the Jeep and truck advanced packaging studios. Now he guides and inspires a team of passionate designers to create exciting and capable vehicles that still retain the Jeep brand’s iconic DNA. We recently caught up with Mark after he returned from another exciting Easter Jeep Safari event in Moab, UT and had the opportunity to ask him some questions about the Jeep brand.
What is it like to work with the Jeep brand as head of design?
MA: Right now I feel I have two major goals. The first goal is to push the brand farther into the future than we have thus far, and to facilitate more progressive designs. The second goal is to protect the Wrangler – I treat that vehicle very different from the rest of the Jeep brand lineup, and if I do my job right, the next Wrangler will take many design cues from the current model. If you remember back in 1987, we put square headlights on the Wrangler, and it was the biggest bummer. As a brand, we decided after that learning experience, the capability will never change but we will continue to make subtle improvements that make the Wrangler easier to live with. Moving forward, you’ll see the Jeep brand which was never based on retro cues, take a much more modern look with a focus on staying true to its form and capability.
What gave you the passion to work with the Jeep brand, and how are you involved in shaping the brand’s strategic direction in the future of design?
MA: I work very closely with our marketing group but again they look to me and the design team as the pointy end of the boat. Being with the brand for so long, there were times in the past that I was frustrated with certain missteps and miscues in our communications regarding the design work. I’ve seen it done so many times and not to my liking. Now it’s my turn to put my money where my mouth is and get the design right.
What inspires you the most to design for the Jeep brand?
MA: What inspires me most is the fear of getting it wrong. There are expectations and certain promises that the brand has to live up to. For instance, we’ll be making vehicles off platforms which are not typical of the Jeep brand, such as front-wheel-drive car architecture. How do I bring the history of the Jeep brand to something like that? It’s not always easy or fun, but we try to incorporate the traditional Jeep styling and sheet metal among other things in developing these vehicles.
What is the most interesting aspect of trying to meet the design needs of both city and country owners in a single vehicle?
MA: We do this by offering a range of models with various packages and content within each nameplate. The price class versus city or country owners is what we tend to put more focus on. A good example would be a consumer who lives in Manhattan, yet they buy a $400.00 pair of hiking boots for their weekend adventures. Their lifestyle and tastes, rather than where they live are what ultimately influence their purchasing decisions.
What inspired the design of the new Jeep Compass?
MA: The inspiration on the redesign was to give the 2011 Jeep Compass a grown up look. We felt the previous model had an almost a “cartoonish” look to it, which created a suspicion that it wasn’t capable. We also wanted to give the 2011 Compass more of a connection to the Grand Cherokee.
What can you speak of that will inspire future Jeep brand models?
MA: The Wrangler and Grand Cherokee will be inspired by themselves. The rest of the vehicles will have some heritage elements in their design. You’ll also see them accelerate much quicker from a design competitiveness standpoint in their respective areas in the market segment.
Along with the Jeep Seven Slot Grille, what other design elements in your opinion, evoke the quintessential Jeep brand design?
MA: Well, when you think of Wrangler, there are many elements that evoke the Jeep brand design including the seven slot grille, flat fenders, round headlights and wheel openings. To carry a design feature like these for over 70 years says a lot and cannot be matched in the industry. Even the new Grand Cherokee has design elements in the pillar and in the tail lamp shape that go back to the original Grand Wagoneer. And for the Jeep Wrangler, we still kept the fold-down windshield, a historical feature of the vehicle that’s been around for decades. We know not too many owners lower the windshield but we kept this feature because it‘s part of the vehicles heritage.
What is your favorite Jeep brand model of all time from a design perspective and why?
MA: Definitely the CJ5. The Jeep brand began to evolve when it introduced the CJ5 model in the early 1960’S. The larger headlights and curved fender gave it a slightly “cartoonish” feature, yet it was very capable. These elements just resonated with me and I fell in love with its looks.
We’ve heard the 2012 Wrangler will have a new look, what can you share with us?
MA: All I can say at this time is that we’ll develop a few buzz models and continue with upgrading the interior.
How important are heritage elements when designing future Jeep brand products?
MA: Very important! Again, I cannot discuss too much on future products but we’ll always have heritage styling cues that we are proud of that our design team will sneak in!
Will there be a 75th Anniversary Wrangler?
MA: Absolutely! Five years from now.
The current JK is quite massive compared to older models, any chance the Wrangler will shrink?
MA: The current Wrangler will not shrink. There may be a vehicle one day that mirrors the Wrangler that would be smaller, however we are not that far along in our product planning.
Any thoughts on if the Cherokee nameplate will be brought back to the US?
MA: I am a big proponent of this and I’d love to see it happen. We are investigating options, but again, are not that far along in our product planning.
Will Jeep eventually start experimenting with hybrid technology?
MA: Jeep is exploring all alternative propulsion technologies.