Chrysler's young, hip exec runs SRT division

LOS ANGELES

The automaker has big plans for the future, thanks to relatively young designer Ralph Gilles.

Gilles is the Chrysler executive in charge of the SRT models, which have lots of extra power under the hood and visual treats on the outside.

"The SRT is like coming home," Gilles said. "I've been the kid sitting in the back of the SRT garage at work, peaking in for the last 10 years. I've really been interested in what they do. I love it because it's really an enthusiast playground within the company.

Gilles, who is also senior vice-president of design, doesn't necessarily look like a car company executive. He's a little younger and a little hipper than most.

Gilles showed talent for drawing at a young age, so his aunt encouraged him to explore that talent. She then sent a letter to then Chrysler chairman Lee Iaccoca to let him know of her nephew's talent.

"That was the only name she can think of, to be honest with you. 'Lee Iaccoca, let's send a letter to him,' and that's exactly what she did," Gilles said of his aunt. Iaccoca forwarded the letter to the second man in charge of design.

That set the wheels in motion for a career at the company, where Gilles has risen to become a star in the auto industry.

As for the future of performance in a world that's looking for greener and greener automobiles, Gilles is not worried.

"We're looking at a lot of efficiency and with efficiency we've found a way to preserve power, to preserve a fun drive," Gilles said.

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