Interview: Mark Allen, Head of Jeep Design
Wrangler and Grand Cherokee Dual Manifestations of Brand Identity
During the 2012 Jeep Experience in Colorado, I had a chance to talk with Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design for Chrysler. I could sense his passion for the brand and what it stands for as he spoke enthusiastically about some of the brand's concepts, including the Mighty FC, J12 pickup, and the Wrangler Traildozer. Curious as to how the brand sees itself, I asked him some questions about what he sees as the brand's core heritage, its product positioning, and what might be coming in the future.
Unlike some newer upstart brands contrived to appeal to an idealized youthful, urban demographic with features such as loud colors and flashing synchronized speaker accents, Allen said Jeep sees itself as a much more grounded, authentic brand. "We've got these brand boards we put together in the studio. It's like a visual representation of Jeep. It's this whole idea of a competent, rugged American. It's a WWII, greatest generation guy, just there to help. It's not an obnoxious, in-your-face brand. That's kind of what's in our head. Going back to the World War II days, Jeep was really the replacement for the horse. That's what I'd consider the essence of Jeep. It's not a rowdy brand, it's a confident helper," Allen said.
Although the Wrangler is universally recognized as the historical face of Jeep, Allen says there are two key anchor models to the Jeep brand which all other vehicles it produces are inspired by: the Wrangler, and the Grand Cherokee. "I split Jeep into two categories when I talk about the brand and the vehicles that come out of it. The Wrangler side of the house is really characterized by an upright profile. You won't see that change too much. The other side of the house is the Grand Cherokee, which has a faster windshield, a more muscular body, a more refined appearance. We take the Grand Cherokee up into luxury car territory. It's kind of that duality. We feed all of the other vehicles in the lineup between those two lines," he said.
The Wrangler and its predecessors have long used the same basic formula -- body-on-frame construction, and front and rear solid axles -- but Allen doesn't necessarily see those two attributes being the defining characteristics of the brand or even the Wrangler itself. "I don't know if I'd consider body-on-frame as that big a part of the Jeep identity. I consider tractive capability more of the core of what Jeep is. It really doesn't matter if it's body-on-frame or not, it's all about the capability. I wouldn't say body-on-frame is a driving factor in how we build the next Wrangler."
When asked about the trend toward higher-speed off-road models such as the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Ram 1500 Ram Runner, Allen had respect for the models, but said he didn't see the high-speed off-road theme as really part of the Jeep character. "The way I view it, we have a high-performance off-road Jeep in the form of the Wrangler Rubicon. It's one of the highest-performance off-road vehicles you can get. I have a lot of respect for the Raptor, and the Ram Runner concept is interesting, but it's not an area I'd say we're focused on right now."
Asked how Jeep can justify the existence of the Grand Cherokee SRT8 in the lineup with all the emphasis on low-key, confident off-road ability, Allen said he acknowledged the model is controversial to some traditionalists, but was too cool not to build. In terms of an off-road performance-oriented model other than the Wrangler Rubicon, Allen pointed to the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk concept, which made its debut this year at the Moab Jeep Safari and features more aggressive rubber and Mopar rock rails, as the probable direction the brand would go for the time being.