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Mark Allen, Head of Design for Jeep, Talks Cool Tech, First 4x4, and Automotive Innovation

Mark Allen, the head of design for the Jeep brand, has led Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, and Gladiator production programs.

Jobs in cars. Is there anything better? We certainly never forget how lucky we are to get paid to write about and breathe 4x4s, 24/7, 365. But imagine being someone whose job is to design vehicles from the ground up, using the most futuristic automotive technology ever? Well, we had a chance to play the 5 Questions game with Mark Allen, Jeep's head of design, who gave us the scoop on what innovations he likes in Jeep vehicles, what his first 4x4 was, and what the "absolute coolest thing" is that he gets to use for designing Jeeps.

Mark Allen, Head of Design, Jeep Brand

Job duties: Design and release surface for production of Jeep-branded vehicles. My main focus of late has been Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, and Gladiator production programs as well as several future products. Additionally, I lead a small group of individuals that produce special vehicles for the annual Jeep Safari in Moab (an event we are all sorely missing this year).

Coolest equipment/technology for getting things done: Although we have access to lots of great technological advances in milling, CAD, 3-D printing, laser scanning, video walls, virtual reality, etc., I would say the absolute coolest thing we have is a simple courtyard we utilize for design reviews of fullsize clay models. Why? Because that is where we get to finally see our efforts in the light of day.

Everything that leads up to that point (discussion, sketching, digital modeling, hand-sculpting) is great to experience, but the thrill happens when you push the model outside and get to experience it fullsize. At that point, the vehicle begins to communicate size, proportion, feel, character, emotion. A lot happens very quickly, and you immediately begin reacting to the model, adjusting lines and form volumes.

First 4x4 (or car or truck): My first 4x4 was a '90 Mazda pickup: standard cab, shortbox, bright red on massive (!) 30x10.5 A/T tires. It was dependable, looked great, and rode like hell. Bought it brand-new when I moved from Seattle to Detroit. I reasoned that it would be just fine to show up in Michigan in a Japanese truck with no A/C. I was wrong on both counts.

Neat tech—yours or theirs: A couple of innovative features I have been involved in that were really satisfying include the RamBox storage boxes introduced on the '10 DS Ram and some of the open-air options on Jeep Renegade and Compass. Additionally, where we have taken the current Wrangler in terms of function (steel winch-ready bumpers, highline fenders, larger tires, tire clearance for the ability to run larger tires with lower lift amounts) and some of the fun features that we have improved like the Sky Slider roof, retaining the removable doors, and easily foldable windshield are all unique.

Currently watching, reading, or tackling as a project: I am currently finishing up a long-term project of a '73 AMC Javelin AMX that I have modified extensively to behave and feel more modern without losing the identity of the car. I have wanted to build a vehicle from the era of American muscle cars for quite a while but really did not wish to have a car that is common or familiar, so I purposely chose something obscure from FCA's twisted family tree. The build style is sort of pro-touring, but as it would have been done in the '70s. I am wrapping up this project now and should be ready to cruise this summer.