We asked executives attending the L.A. Auto Show a few questions about cars, driving and the future of the automotive industry.
Here’s what Mark Allen, head of Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep design division, told us.
What’s your daily driver, and how long is your average commute?
My daily is a 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which is perfect for my needs as a family hauler with great towing capacity and superior snow capability.
What’s your favorite weekend or summer holiday drive?
I am in a small group of guys that travel up to Canada a few times a year to take our Jeeps off-roading for long weekends. It’s a beautiful area that is peaceful, wild and well out of cellphone range. My Jeep is a 2001 TJ.
What current motorized vehicle (made by some other company than your own) do you particularly admire?
Ducati motorcycles, fast and beautiful. Porsche 911 GT3 , iconic and brutal.
What historic car or truck do you wish you owned?
Can I have three wishes? A Miura, a Unimog and a Morris Minor Traveller. I realize that’s an unusual group but that’s what would make me happy.
In what country, or in what area of this country, are the best roads for driving?
Moab, Utah. Hands down the best off-road driving in the U.S. Tremendous beauty, terrific weather and a real opportunity to disconnect.
What’s the top speed you’ve ever traveled in a car, and where did that take place?
146 miles per hour before I lifted. Sault Saint Marie, Mich., in a SRT Grand Cherokee. Don’t tell anybody.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the automotive industry?
Keeping up! Federal regulations, CAFE, crash standards, export market demands, user experience, lightweighting, plant loading, material advancements, new age powertrains, autonomy..... the list goes on. It sounds heavy, and it is really, but these factors also keep the job of designing new vehicles interesting as we weave our way through all of it. It’s as if every time we start a new program, all the rules have changed. Challenging but fun.
What’s the most exciting change at work in the automotive industry?
Powertrain advancements. As a designer we have been looking for the technology that will allow a shift in vehicle proportions and I see that opportunity in new propulsion choices that finally move us away from the standard look, particularly in front drive applications. For larger truck-based vehicles, we are literally running out of room under the hood to house all of the required components. The future is bright.
What’s the one area where the automotive industry, as a whole, could be doing a better job?
Personal pet peeve, I really wish we could reduce the ambient noise an automobile produces. Of particular note is the noise of tires on the road. That constant roar that a highway generates is not the engine, exhaust or wind rush but the simple product of rubber tires rolling on pavement. It’s a sound we have all tuned out and live with but I really hope we can find a technical solution to eliminate or greatly reduce the effect .
If the future offered flawless autonomous driving, would you still keep a car for weekend driving?
Absolutely! A vehicle to me has always been about enjoyment, and I wouldn’t want that to go away from my life. I get immense satisfaction out of driving a car, looking at cars, building cars, and daydreaming about them. I get the autonomy ideal and understand the desire but it’s not really something that I lust after. Autonomy has the risk of taking the passion away from vehicles and turning them into household appliances. It’s difficult for me to get worked up over a taxi or an oven.
What’s the one other thing you wish we had asked about?
What was the first vehicle I ever drove? Willys Jeep. Growing up, my family had dune buggies and Jeeps that we drove on the sand dunes along the Oregon coast . My dad got me behind the wheel of our Jeep in the sand on the beach and that’s where I first learned to drive.