Interview: Mark T. Allen, Head of Jeep Design Chrysler Group LLC
Mark Allen was born (in Pomona, California) for this job, though he grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and didn't realize his destiny until later. He dreamed of designing cars from age 5, but served five years as a U.S. Air Force jet mechanic before returning to hone his artistic skills at the Art Institute of Seattle. The portfolio he developed there earned him a scholarship to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. "I had this lifelong love for cars," he says. "I drew cars and built car models from a very young age."
He interned at Ford in 1992, then the next year at Chrysler, where he saw exciting things: Ram truck, Viper, LH cars: "Tom Gale was turning things around. This sleepy company that made K-car derivatives was rapidly waking up, and design was coming to the forefront."
Allen joined Chrysler's Jeep/Truck Advanced Design Studio in 1994, and in three years was a senior designer in the production truck studio. He moved to the Jeep Studio in 1999 and was promoted to design manager in 2000, Jeep/Ram Truck Studios senior manager in 2005, and Jeep/Ram chief designer in 2007 before assuming his current responsibility in 2009.
Among his notable achievements are the 2002 and 2009 Ram Trucks, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, the 2014 Dodge Durango, and the all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee. "I've never worked on a car program," he says. "It's been all Jeeps and trucks."
TT: Because that's what interests you?
MA: Not initially. But in 2001, I was in the Jeep studio and went to the Easter Jeep Safari at Moab, Utah -- sort of a Woodward Dream Cruise for off-roaders -- then came home and bought a Jeep. It really did change my life.
TT: Your new Cherokee is controversial to some.
MA: A lot of that is focused on the front, and the profile, but probably most controversial is the Cherokee name on it. We had a lot of controversy inside the company about that, and loving Jeeps as I do -- I have an old Cherokee and love and respect that vehicle -- why would we not use such a strong name? When that vehicle came out in 1984, it was radical, the first four-door unibody compact SUV, yet became very ordinary by the end of its life. Does it have solid axles? No. But Jeep was not founded on solid axles, leaf springs, or whatever. It was founded on capabilities, getting you into and out of a bad situation.
TT: Is one reason for its looks the car-based front-drive architecture?
MA: You're right on the money. Even if we wanted to recreate the old square Cherokee on a front drive proportion, it just wouldn't work, and it would not be energy-efficient. It had to reenter the market fresh, have a long life, and attract a customer who wasn't buying SUV-type vehicles when the old Cherokee was around.
TT: I've heard it looks different and better in person than in photographs. Most people will see it as very new, modern, and efficient, yet unmistakably Jeep. Why does the grille have a bend in it?
MA: We've done that over the years -- first on the 1974 Cherokee, and on Wranglers -- but this is the most extreme version of it. It looks a little more rugged and gives us better aero. There's also a little bounce in the beltline, like the Wrangler, and the trapezoidal wheel openings date back to the 1941 Jeep. It's really a superior vehicle that I think will do great.
In every issue, Truck Trend interviews people involved in designing, building, and equipping current and future trucks. Have any suggestions for interviews you’d like to see? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org - Editor