Opening breakfast of the two-day media preview started with bacon, which is always a good way to begin for me. The opening remarks by Jill Ciminillo, the new president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), lead me to believe I am not alone because she mentioned it twice.
The Head of Design-Global for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA), Ottawa born design genius Ralph Gilles, keynoted the breakfast meeting with a presentation that grabbed the attention of all in the room. Usually these talks are full of facts and figures suited more for the investor meetings and boardroom thrashings by stakeholders, and are often boringly self-serving dribble. Not this one.
Gilles talked Sci-Fi, AI, Sentience and Infinite Memory. He tipped his hat to his competitors, like BMW and Tesla, and he tossed out questions like, “Have any of you yet heard of BINA48? Hanson Robotics?” then left it there with a teaser slide. I will definitely look them up.
There were, of course, some facts and figures, and bragging on the new nameplates added to the FCA Group – Alfa Romeo and Maserati. But it wasn’t just info dump, Gilles is head of design for these guys, too, and he said stay tuned for cool stuff for “a whole new generation” from Maserati. I cannot wait.
JEEP is in an exciting space as well. One on one Gilles told me he was very excited about the “dual personality of the new Renegade and the expanding personality of the Grand Cherokee” models. One of the factoids thrown out was that overall JEEP sales have climbed from 497,000 units in 2008 to 1,200,000 in 2016.
The Dodge Durango SRT, said Gilles, will be unveiled today. Some already say it is one bad-ass machine, the “supercharged 7-passenger Charger that sounds like a muscle car”. And speaking of Dodge, the passion of the MOPAR Car Clubs around the world are matched by the fervor of the Alfa Romeo fans, a factor in their acquisition of the nameplate.FIAT is looking into bringing its larger platform to the US market as the FIAT Toro truck is already #1 in Latin America, according to Mr. Gilles.
And then about the future, the designer had an awesome concept vehicle to talk about (the vehicle itself is on a slow boat to China for the Beijing Auto Show). It began with a group of a couple dozen millennials picked by Gilles to answer, “What does your generation want?” Answers came as questions like, Why do we need a grille if it’s electric, Why can’t we move the wheels out to the max if there’s no engine compartment, and Why won’t my car talk to me nicely?
PORTAL is something unlike any concept I have ever seen, a ‘third room’ of your living space, and the promotional video said it all with images, no words. So I am just offering eye candy here.
Finally, no surprise, the MAMA Family Vehicle of the Year went to the Chrysler Pacifica, and after accepting the award for FCA-NA, Bruce Velisek, Director – Chrysler Brand at FCA Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, gave me the best sound bite ever – “the Pacifica makes parenting easier, and life better. We’re making mini vans sexy again.”
Founded in 1991, and now in its 26th year, the Midwest Automotive Media Association comprises 278 automotive journalists and public relations professionals from 25 states, D.C. and Canada. Jim Mateja, MAMA’s first president and automotive writer for the Chicago Tribune for over 45 years, recently passed away and was honored at the breakfast to a round of applause.
Douglas Black is a futurist, historian, writer and photographer based in Chicago. He also writes historical fiction under the name Duke Pierce Reade, including the online serial anthology THE RED AND THE GOLD found on Channillo.com