|Trevor Creed with a clay model of the car that has set the country on its ear. The Chrysler 300 has grown Chrysler sales and market share, selling at the rate of 12,000 units a month.
Chrysler cars don’t just spark emotion, they often set trends — cab forward Intrepid sedans, muscular Ram pickups and retro-cool PT Cruisers set design standards for others to follow. It hasn’t always been that way.
Chrylser’s brush with extinction in the early 1980s may have spawned the minivan, but it also did plenty to erase any memories of great designers like Virgil Exner and Elwood Engel, flooding the market with nasty-looking K-cars. That would all turn around in 1985. Trevor Creed was one of the turnaround trio who, along with John Herlitz and Tom Gale, would bring great design back to Chrysler.
Creed says it all started when Tom Gale took over as vice president of design in 1985. At the time, the European-inspired Ford Taurus was the car that rocked the world. While Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca didn’t like the Taurus, he liked the amount of publicity that the vehicle was generating for Ford. One of the many stories said that Ford Chairman Don Peterson had gone to design chief Jack Telnack and said, “Jack, design the car that you would like to drive.” That resulted in the Taurus and Sable.
Iacocca came to Tom Gale with a similar edict and Gale jumped at the opportunity, signaling a new era at Chrysler. “We started doing concept cars,” Creed says. “We couldn’t get to the production cars fast enough. We actually got a Taurus and we said let’s go even further.”
The result was the 1988 Portofino concept that not only wowed auto show crowds around the world, but its radical design spawned the Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde and Eagle Vision and the cab-forward revolution had begun.
The Portofino was followed by many other notable concepts like the 1989 Dodge Viper and Neon, concepts that not only cemented Chrysler’s reputation as a design leader, but Creed says, the success of those concept vehicles set the standards for all future Chrysler products.
“We said ‘why is it that we do these wonderful looking concept cars but the production stuff doesn’t look anything like it?’” Creed says. “And so we started to actually build the concept car.
“The concept car became a part of our business,” says Creed, “and still is to this day.”
These days, it’s Trevor Creed who provides the creative leadership for the Chrysler division’s 55-member design team, taking the title of Senior Vice President Design Chrysler Group, after John Herlitz’s retirements in 2000.
|(From left to right above) Former DaimlerChrysler CEO Wolfgang Berhard, Chrysler Group President and CEO, Dieter Zetsche and Trevor Creed unveil the Dodge Tomahawk at the 2003 North American International Auto Show. Creed says the Viper V-10-powered motorcycle concept was a wild idea that came out of the design studio and Chrysler just decided to do it. The concept created such an impact that it was decided to do one for Chrysler and Jeep. Bernhard came up with the idea for the 800 hp ME412 Chrysler supercar that followed in 2004. This year, Jeep got the Hurricane, a wild twin-engine four-wheel steer car that turns on its own axis, like a dog chasing its tail. Creed says the Hurricane completes the series.
The recent launch of the Chrysler 300 is a testament to that. The 300 has not only sold like hot cakes, but has picked up an unprecedented 30 awards, including Motor Trends Car of the Year.
But Trevor Creed has done more than just keep the spirit of Chrysler design alive. He’s been able to infuse design with craftsmanship, giving Chrysler products something they once lacked — a high level of quality to complement the cutting- edge design.
He created the Craftsmanship Center with the single goal of improving the quality of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep interiors. The idea came to him after he saw the interior of the new Audi A6 at the Geneva Auto Show.
“I was very, very impressed with that,” Creed says. “I’d never seen the level of fit and finish like that before and it made everything that we were trying hard to do, suddenly look outdated overnight.”
Creed brought an A6 into the interior design studio and showed the designers what they should be doing — how they needed to do a better job of modeling, use better materials and take things to a much higher level. He brought the interior suppliers in and showed them the car and what was expected of them. And, to their credit, Creed says, they actually went out and got their own vehicles, or they got parts from the German suppliers so that they could analyze them to see how they were made.
Interior component suppliers bring all of the parts of a specific interior to the off-site Craftsmanship Center where they’re assembled together and checked against each other for tolerance, fit and finish and color and texture match. It not only has helped improve interior quality, but Creed says that design is now encouraging purchasing to try and award an entire interior to one supplier.
“We don’t mind if you give the seats to somebody else or the headliner to somebody else,” Creed says. “But don’t give the doors to one person, the instrument panel to another and the console to a third, because it will only encourage this difficulty of matching.”
He has also established the Quality Assurance Studio, a dedicated group of designers who develop gauge clusters, radio covers, navigation maps, engine covers and vehicle badging, as well as fine-tuning the fit and finish of headlamp and taillamp modules and hood to fender gaps, etc. “These things were always done by the studio,” says Creed, “but it leaves them to concentrate on the main body of the program and these designers become experts in this stuff and are enthusiastic about it.”
Seeing the necessity to build cohesiveness in the design of the entire vehicle, Creed has broken down the barriers that once separated interior and exterior designers, having them work together.
“I kept seeing the interior people make the same mistakes,” says Creed, “console units not fitting with seats and doors — things like that. There was constantly a battle between the interior and the exterior studio about the height of belt lines and the height of instrument panels. There were always fingers being pointed and what have you. I thought it would be a much better system if we didn’t do that.”
Changing design cultures wasn’t easy. The interior designers came to him with all sorts of reasons why this new scheme wouldn’t work.
“I listened to all the logic and the arguments,” Creed says, “but I said we’re going to do it. So instead of telling me how it won’t work, you tell me what you would do to avoid all these things that you said would go wrong.” He works closely with his three VPs, Rick Aneiros, Jeep and Truck Design, David McKinnon, Small, Premium and Family Vehicle Design and Tom Tremont, Advanced Product Design. They do a weekly walkthrough of all the design studios and weigh in with their opinions on all three brands.
“But at the end of the day,” Creed says, “I’ve got to be able to make a recommendation to Dieter and to marketing.”
Creed knows the importance of keeping the top brass in the loop. He does a monthly walkthrough with Chrysler President and CEO Dieter Zetsche, where they review anything from sketches for future concept cars to sketches for the next-generation Jeep Liberty or the next generation minivan. He’s also shown full-size rotating electronic images and clay models in progress.
“He’s involved right from beginning to end,” Creed says. “And it does help when you have a visionary like Dieter, because he’s got a great eye for design, whether it’s the big picture of just looking at a package in an early clay, or down to the finest detail with the chrome bezel. I think that comes from his time at Mercedes Benz.”
Creed credits the support he gets from senior management as a direct influence on the amount of creativity his designers are able to put into the products.
“When I’m pushing for bigger wheels and somebody says, ‘yeah, they do look good,’ and ‘yes, we need to find a way to put the bigger wheels on there,’ you get the backing, and I think that’s really important.”
You could almost say that Trevor Creed was a born car designer. His love of American cars started very early in his life. “I remember seeing them on the streets and in dealerships,” Creed says, “and I would stop on my way home from school and go and look at them — marvel at the size and the scale and the complete difference between them and British cars.”
Creed began sketching cars, inspired by newspaper ads sent by an aunt who lived in Canada. The school headmaster recognized his artistic talent and suggested that he attend design school. After graduation, Creed was enrolled at art college studying product design.
“There was nowhere in those days that you could go and learn to design cars,” Creed says. “It just didn’t exist.”
In pursuit of his dreams, Creed took summer jobs with companies related to the auto industry, working one summer for Joseph Lucas of the famed Lucas Electronics. His future was set when General Motors came to the college one semester offering two summer internships in its advanced design studio at Vauxhall Motors in Luton, England. Creed jumped at the chance. That experience merely confirmed what he already knew, that this was the career he wanted.
Graduating with a degree in product design, he applied for work at Ford and GM, “primarily because I wanted to be involved with American cars.”
He accepted a position as an interior designer with Ford of Great Britain, with the promise that he would have the chance to transfer to the U.S.
“In fact I discovered, once I joined Ford,” Creed says, “that the only exchanges they ever did was the other way around. They brought American designers over to Europe.”
Creed was able to learn a lot from those American designers and kept in touch with many of them as he worked his way through the Ford system, designing interiors for the original Ford Escort, Cortina, European Granada, Sierra and Scorpio, among others and doing a three – year stint in Germany as well as spending some time in Australia working on the Ford Falcon. In 1982, friends Jack Telnack and Bob Lutz, who had just recently been brought to the U.S., helped Creed snare a three-year assignment in the States.
Creed was determined to stay in the U.S. “I tried hard to get a green card through [Ford] so that I could stay, but they wouldn’t have any part of that,” Creed says. A close friend, a former Senior VP of product planning who had left for Chrysler, arranged an interview with Chrysler President Hal Spurlick, who introduced him to Tom Gale, the man whom Spurlick had tapped to reorganize Chrysler design.
“We got on very well together, Creed says. “I was offered a position with Chrysler.” He became the Director – Interior Design & Color & Trim, Chrysler Corporation, in 1985 and, as Creed says, “the rest is history.” His portfolio, as design chief, includes the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler Crossfire roadster and coupe, the segmentdefining Chrysler Pacifica crossover and the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum. The list also includes the Stow ’n Go seating in the new minivan, a design and engineering concept that has vaulted Chrysler at least a generation ahead of all its competitors.
His short five-year legacy has also shown a sharp focus on brand identity, an important aspect that was missing from the Chrysler lineup and brought to Chrysler’s attention by the new DaimlerChrysler Board of Directors. Creed holds up the Neon as an example, the same exact car sold as a Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge.
A soul-searching found that the Dodge brand was defined by the trucks and SUVs, the Jeep brand seemed fine, but the Chrysler brand was nonexistent. The Pacifica and Crossfire helped in defining the Chrysler brand, but it was the 300/Magnum program that would literally set the tone for how brand identity would be set in the future.
Creed determined that if true brand identity was going to be developed, then money would have to be invested to create two distinctive body shells for the Chrysler and Dodge cars. “They should both be very different looking sedans or they shouldn’t even be competing with each other,” Creed says, “and so that sort of became the new rule.”
It was determined that the Chrysler 300 would be the lead vehicle with the intention of moving the Chrysler brand upscale. The 5.7L Hemi would be the big story. Dodge would get a Sport Wagon, a car that’s closer in many ways to an SUV. “Marketing was exceptionally nervous about that one, as you can imagine,” Creed says, “because even though it doesn’t look like anything else on the road, the word wagon just had them more nervous.”
A sporty-looking sedan for Dodge was always in the plan. The concept came from a two-door model that was done in Chrysler’s West Coast studio as part of a summer project. “We really liked it, so we said ‘let’s take that and make that into a four-door sedan,’ and that’s how the Charger was born.”
“And yeah, there’s more to come,” Creed adds. “It’s an incredibly flexible platform.” The merger has also helped in other ways, though Creed laughs at the notion that Mercedes design has gotten better since he’s taken over at Chrysler.
Right after the merger, Chrysler and Mercedes held design conferences where design directors from each company got a chance to see what the others were doing, though Creed admits that they haven’t done anything like that lately.
“We don’t have a specific policy or anything like that,” Creed says, “because it’s considered very, very important by DCX that we have no brand confusion.”
Still, Creed says that the two sides have influenced each other. He was impressed with the detail and quality that Mercedes put into its interior bucks. Today, Chrysler’s “sitting boxes” emulate Mercedes with appropriate texture on the doors and instrument panels and high-quality detail throughout.
And Creed can’t help but think that his focus on design freedom has rubbed off on his German comrades.
“When we have a big review in the dome every July we show everything that’s coming,” Creed says. ”I think when all the German management come and see that, they may well go back and say we want to be more advanced. I’m sure there’s got to be some rub-off in synergies.”
Trevor Creed has Chrysler on a winning track. The 300 has boosted all Chrysler sales and bucked the current domestic manufacturing trend by increasing market share. The design of the next-generation minivan is currently underway, though don’t expect to see anything outrageous.
“We know that they certainly don’t sell on outrageous styling,” says Creed. “But believe me, they will look completely different to what’s on the road now and they will have as (designer) Ralph (Gilles) calls it, a lot more panache.”
The Dodge Nitro, introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in February, is an example of what a mid-sized Dodge SUV would look like, with a hint of Power Wagon in the fenders that flow into the familiar Dodge face.
|The Dodge Caliber 5-door utility vehicle will be one of a family of vehicles that will replace the Neon. Strong brand identity and packaging is what will set the Dodge apart from the other brands. Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant and powered by Chrylser’s new World Engine, being buil in Dundee, Mich.
Caliber boldly moves away from the threebox small car look with a hint of Durango in a stylish, small Sport Wagon package that, as Creed says, can only be a Dodge.
“Again, this brand thing,” Creed says. “I can do that now because I’ve got dedicated sheet metal and a clear direction for the brand, so that’s why they look the way they do.”
Caliber will also give Europeans a hint of what to expect as Dodge begins to export its entire line-up of “American” cars to Europe. Creed makes a point of saying that Chrysler will not design specific cars for the European market. “Europeans make a conscious decision to buy an American car,” Creed says, “So we’re going to give them the opportunity to buy a Dodge, with all of its American character.” Wouldn’t it be ironic if some young British lad falls in love with those American cars and dreams of someday becoming a Chrysler designer.
Creed on his favorite cars.
“I have a Cobra, an exact reproduction with a 427 engine, which was something I longed for when I was a young kid. I used to see them at British hill climbs and they were always dominating with their massive V-8 engines. I never thought of one being on the road, I always saw it as being on the track. And then one day in London in the late ’60s, early ’70s, I saw a black one driving down the street and I thought, that would be really fantastic to have one of those one day. I’m enamored by British cars like the Rolls Royce and the Bentley from the ’60s. If I could afford to buy one, I would probably invest in one. I have a place in Scottsdale, Arizona, which would be an ideal place to have one and drive occasionally when one’s down there.”
Creed on creating credible concepts.
“We have a large group of engineers who are in the studios sitting alongside the designers, whether we’re working on production stuff or the advanced concepts. They guide us to say, ‘if that’s the concept you want, we can do it on this platform, or we might have to create a unique platform.’We are guided all the way through that so that we have a credible end result.”
Creed on electronics in design.
“It’s just made it so much quicker to get things done. I’ve been in the business 38 years. I’ve gone through it from doing tape drawings and having engineers on boards with pencils drawing the cars and they could never keep up. There were always battles with how long it would take to have a study done to decide if you could move the headlamps higher or lower. You’d wait weeks for a study and now things are done within 30 minutes. There were huge amounts of time-wasting in the past.”
Creed on emotion in design.
“I don’t go out into the studios and say, ‘I want you to put as much emotion into this car, as you can.’ I can look at sketches and say ‘that one’s nice, it’s clean, nothing offensive. But this one, this has really got some punch to it.’ Some designers are able to get more emotion into things than others. I think what’s clearly happening with other people is they’re making conservative judgments. I wouldn’t say that their designers don’t have that emotion. It’s just that somebody elects not to go down that route.”