AI Online


Keen on Craftsmanship

Chrysler’s turnaround in interior quality is the latest story to emerge from a company that has embraced a new culture and renewed senior management support.

All of the pieces of the 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee fill the Interior Craftsmanship Center awaiting sign-off seating.
Craftsmanship is more than just a buzzword at Chrysler. In fact, when it comes to interiors, Chrysler’s top designers say their new senior management has made one thing clear: craftsmanship is critical. True, over the years, Chrysler has often led the way in North American design innovation. But, craftsmanship?

Designers Margaret Hackstedde, Joe Dehner and John Sgalia won’t say that Chrysler interior quality wasn’t receiving proper emphasis prior to the merger, but they do agree that the Daimler influence has brought about a more dedicated interest in and commitment to the highest quality vehicle interiors possible. In fact, they’ll go so far as to say that since the merger, Chrysler has achieved a “turnaround” in vehicle interior quality.

“We always paid attention to quality, but since the merger, there has been a noticeable cultural change,” says Hackstedde, director of the color, trim and fabric department. “Today, craftsmanship is more critical for Chrysler than ever before. There’s huge support from senior management now on everything related to interior quality. There’s much greater overall attention to detail, more precise control of surfaces and gaps, and a new level of depth we’re expected to control.”

The completed interior benefits from the Center’s expertise and eye for detail.
Another influence of the merger is a more intense focus on establishing brand identification within each interior. “We’re working hard to further distinguish each brand,” says Dehner, director of interior/exterior design for the Chrysler Group. “For example, the tortoise shell trim used in the Chrysler 300C interior will never be found in a Dodge or Jeep product.” Another interior component used to differentiate brands with the group is seating. However, it’s also one interior component where they’ve experienced an occasional craftsmanship challenge. “Sometimes the craftsmanship on seats wasn’t what we wanted,” says Sgalia, director of interior/exterior Jeep design, “but it wasn’t always the supplier’s fault. It’s happened that the supplier has delivered just what we asked for, yet, the end product is not up to our craftsmanship expectations. We realize that we have some things we can learn from our suppliers.”

To help the designers create brand identity, idea boards — or thought-starters, as Hackstedde likes to call them —are placed throughout the studios. These boards — covered with fabric swatches, color squares, photos, magazine clippings and trendy products — contain “the DNA of each brand,” she says. Also on each board is a set of words that help define the brand: Rugged, Capable, Go Anywhere/Do Anything and Freedom for Jeep; Elegance, Refinement and Confidence for Chrysler; and Bold, Powerful and Performance for Dodge. With the critical and popular acclaim of the 300C, the Durango, the PT Cruiser, the Crossfire and the Pacifica, the brand identities seem to be crystallizing. The merger of two very different auto companies may have finally found its collective rhythm. And what words would the designers choose to describe the design DNA of their group’s interiors across the board? “Precision,” says Dehner.

“Inviting, open and spacious,” says Hackstedde. “Disciplined pizzazz,” says Sgalia. … And, of course, craftsmanship.

“Craftsmanship means a variety of things,” says Hackstedde. “To me, it’s consistent, harmonious match in color, grain and gloss.”

“Craftsmanship shows most when the consumer can perceive the love and attention that went into each part,” says Sgalia. “An interior has craftsmanship when you know that the parts fit, and that they’re always going to fit right in every vehicle. Craftsmanship has to be repeatable.” “And craftsmanship isn’t always obvious,” adds Dehner. “Sometimes, because of the process involved in creating a certain part, the craftsmanship is even transparent.” “But, we know it’s there,” laughs Hackstedde. “Yeah, we know it’s there,” Dehner agrees.

Role of the Interior Craftsmanship Studio

Seating (’05 Grand Cherokee shown) is one interior component that creates an occasional craftsmanship challenge.
Chrysler’s Interior Craftsmanship Studio (located about one mile north of the Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Mich.) is comprised of five design specialists who have the responsibility of giving final approval on every interior part, of every vehicle, in every color it comes in.

The designers check the part’s color against the original specified color, they check gloss, they check grain and they check design. “The designers who have part-approval responsibilities take their jobs very seriously,” says Hackstedde, whose color, trim and fabric department provides leadership to the Interior Craftsmanship Studio. “When a designer signs off on a part for a final appearance approval and says the tool is ready to be grained, they are in essence saying, ‘Okay, you can go ahead and make thousands of those.’”

Dehner recalls one such “serious moment” that occurred a little over a year ago. Before the Pacifica’s launch in January 2003, Dehner was called in to approve a glove box component. “It was already late November before a January launch, and I remember standing there looking at that glove box and thinking that the gloss level on the inside of the part wasn’t quite right,” he says. “The inside of a glove box may not seem like such a big deal, but I was not about to sign off on it with the inside too glossy. The supplier went back and fixed it and re-submitted the part.” Although the Interior Craftsmanship Studio isn’t new — it was already up and running before the Daimler-Chrysler merger — it remains distinctive in many ways. “The leadership of our design office in craftsmanship is unique in the industry,” says Hackstedde. “Usually, craftsmanship is a quality or engineering function. Yet, here, the Interior Craftsmanship Studio is part of the design office color and trim department.”

Great attention to detail is evident in the gauges of the new Chrysler 300, designed to mimic expensive watches.
In addition, Hackstedde points out that the designers approving the parts are the same individuals who conceptualized and specified the parts’ colors in the very beginning. “Because the designers remain part of the process from conception through production, they’re right there taking responsibility if something goes wrong along the way.” For example, she says, “As we develop new colors, we are able to identify and resolve any potential difficulties in matching or repeating the color very early in the development cycle. “We’re not just picking a whimsical color and then throwing the part over the wall for someone else to deal with.”

Role of Suppliers
Innovative suppliers have also had a role in Chrysler’s interior turnaround, the designers say. Although it’s true that suppliers are design partners more in some components than in others, Hackstedde, Dehner and Sgalia say they’ve had considerable luck in simply letting the supply community know what they’re looking for. The minivan’s Stow ’n Go second and third row seats are a good example, says Dehner. “Upon selecting a seating supplier, we tapped their brains for innovative STO foam solutions to meet our packaging requirements. The original concept was our vision, but Intier brought a new high-tech foam to the table that was thinner than anything we’d ever used, but still dense enough to meet our performance and comfort standards.”

Similarly, Hackstedde says that she looks to fabric suppliers to bring innovations to her design team. “We look for designs that are manufacturable and repeatable,” she says. “We really rely on our fabric suppliers, because there’s no way our designers can be experts in every material incorporated into a vehicle interior.”

All three agree that the emergence of megasuppliers that can offer a complete vehicle interior is a good thing. “It’s much easier to coordinate the final appearance, fit and finish of an interior if you’re dealing with one supplier,” Dehner says. Although Chrysler does not yet offer a vehicle interior entirely supplied by one company, Sgalia says the 2005 Grand Cherokee interior is primarily supplied by Venture and JCI. Dehner is working now on a vehicle whose interior is 80 percent from a single supplier. “And it’s a new supplier that’s doing a great job on the project,” he adds. “A company that wasn’t even around much just a year ago.”

Interior Vision

Hackstedde calls the automotive industry “a trend-setter and a trend-watcher.” For inspiration, her designers turn to fashion, jewelry, electronics and especially products that — like automotive — represent major consumer purchases such as kitchen designs and furniture. Some of the designers’ favorite trends include:

  • Silver — it’s everywhere in consumer products, either glossy or satin finishes.
  • Oranges — a few years ago, this color wasn’t acceptable anywhere, and today it’s everywhere.
  • Texture — technical textures and patterns instead of animal grains.
  • Two- or three-tone interiors.
  • Lighter interiors that convey more spaciousness. And yet, while styling gets them passionately talking about a vehicle’s interior identity, it’s still craftsmanship that tops their checklist. “Craftsmanship comes before design in our scale of importance,” says Sgalia, and the others readily agree. The group’s craftsmanship cues include:
  • More flush parts, fewer gaps and hidden part lines.
  • More attention to detail.
  • Control and precision.
  • Implied value.
  • Fewer and fewer part breaks and less joints to control (Sgalia says the new Grand Cherokee is down to 26 from 52 in the previous model.)
  • Touch-points that feature correct reach, sight lines that are correct, no stray reflections, and controls in intuitive locations.
  • A function-based, “scienced-out” interior architecture.

 The company uses concept vehicles, like the 1998 Spyder concept, to test new colors, materials and textures. The Spyder wheel sports the tortoise shell accents found on the new 300.
Admittedly, Hackstedde, Dehner and Sgalia say their new management’s directives on interior quality and craftsmanship are a tall order to fill. “But, it’s not scary,” says Dehner, “because senior management support is so strong now. We’re telling more of the design story to them up front because they’re interested, they want to hear it. They’re right there with us, as passionate about the product as we are, rolling up their shirt sleeves and splitting the atoms with you.”

Previous posts

Next posts

Sun. July 14th, 2024

Share this post