Jeep Cherokee: diversity creates worldwide appeal
The insights of a diverse global team ensure this vehicle’s popularity on every continent
“You get so many varying perspectives on how individuals use a car and what is really a priority for them.” – Chris Barman, Jeep
By Skip Waugh
For years, the Jeep brand, manufactured by Chrysler Group LLC (Auburn Hills, MI), has been well known for its ruggedness on and off-road. The 2018 Jeep Cherokee builds on that seventy-year history, but this year’s model was recreated from the ground up, with fresh ideas and input from an international crew of experts.
As a result, the company notes that the new Cherokee offers “superior road hand-ling for normal driving and vastly improved fuel efficiency.” Fuel efficiency has improved more than 45 percent over the previous model. More than seventy safety and security features are part of the new design, which gets high marks from groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Trailhawk version is optimized for off-road driving.
Since launching in September 2013, the 2018 Jeep Cherokee continues to show strong U.S. sales, up 11 percent over the previous July. The car, which is classified as a “small SUV,” has received recognition for both value and safety from auto industry publications and groups, including Motor Week, Kelly Blue Book and other regional and national organizations.
At the heart of this vehicle are the diverse people responsible for putting it together. From paper to production, the 2018 Jeep Cherokee reflects the diverse engineering team’s commitment to building a quality car with worldwide utility and appeal.
Chris Barman: the importance of many voices
The Cherokee team set out to create a true Jeep, but off-road performance was not the only priority. The team needed to meet the additional requirements of improved road handling, performance and fuel efficiency.
Chris Barman was the vehicle line executive for the Jeep Cherokee. Barman, a twenty-year veteran of Chrysler Group, is a graduate of Chrysler Institute of Engineering, a leadership development program at the company.
She received her BSME from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) in 1994 and an MSME from Oakland University (Rochester, MI) in 1996. She earned her MBA from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 2002.
Barman’s role as vehicle line executive is similar to that of a chief engineer. Her responsibilities span an entire segment of vehicles, including the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200. She works with a diverse team, which was an advantage when it came to the Cherokee. Her team members on the project were men and women representing a wide range of ages, backgrounds and cultures.
She says meeting a vehicle’s functional objectives takes input from everyone. “You get so many varying perspectives on how individuals use a car and what their priorities are,” she says. “With this group, we could engage in richer conversations as we talked about design and what the tradeoffs might be.”
Since Jeep is a global brand, Barman saw the importance of including voices from many regions. “It was critical to have team members from our European operations as stakeholders and partners,” says Barman. “They guided us on what was important for the European market.”
Delivering what the customer wants
Audrey Moore also believes that a variety of perspectives is essential. Moore is a fifteen-year veteran of Chrysler Group and also a Chrysler Institute of Engineering graduate. She has a 1998 BSME and 2000 MSME from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI).
Moore was the lead technical engineer for the Jeep Cherokee. She managed the teams in charge of taking the car on the road and testing the vehicle’s capabilities in the U.S. and overseas.
“We got a wide range of feedback from our team about the car and how it performed,” she says. Moore explains that as team members spent time in the car, they thought about what customers wanted the car to do. And they focused on meeting those needs.
Moore says the interior cockpit is the area she is most proud of. “I get in the car and do things differently than a six-foot-tall man would,” she observes. “People adjust differently. What seems minor makes a major difference in comfort.”
Moore notes, for example, that the reworked interior cockpit now has armrests that accommodate smaller females. Also, cup holders are not covered by armrests as in other models. “We took all the things customers have said they wanted and tried to find a way for all of it to be there. It took time, but the team did a fantastic job.”
Testing off-road conditions
Heather Scott was part of Moore’s team as the engineer responsible for systems integration. She received her BSME in 1997 from the Ohio State University (Columbus).
She started with the Jeep brand when she joined Chrysler Group in 2000, and worked exclusively on the off-road package for the new Cherokee Trailhawk version.
The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk is trail rated, meaning it’s designed to perform in a variety of challenging off-road conditions. The rating is based on five key performance categories: traction, ground clearance, maneuverability, articulation and water fording.
Scott took the vehicle to areas with some of the country’s toughest off-road conditions. These ranged from the woods and mud of Michigan to the Rubicon Trail, a twenty-two-mile route made up of part road and part 4x4 trails in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“We had a good mix on the team,” she recalls. “We had new team members as well as more experienced members. Interestingly, the women engineers on the team had the most experience.”
She says her team was part of the decision-making process throughout. This was critical since the new Cherokee was built on a different architecture from previous versions. “A lot of people doubted whether it was still truly a Jeep and could tackle the things a Jeep needs to do,” she says. “It was the Rubicon Trail test that made us realize this car is really darn good.”
Meeting needs overseas
The Jeep brand is sold in more than 150 countries, and its usage overseas must meet specific regional requirements. Shannon Knight was the lead engineer responsible for the adaptation of the Cherokee to overseas markets. She is part of Moore’s team as well.
Knight graduated from Michigan Technological University (Houghton) in 1999 with a BSME. She received a 2002 MS in automotive systems engineering from the University of Michigan (Dearborn). She started with the Jeep brand in 2005.
“Going to Europe to test the vehicle helped uncover areas for improvement and validate what had already been done,” she reports. As an example, she notes that European drivers must often navigate mountainous areas with lots of tunnels. The feedback the team received was that the Cherokee’s automatic headlights and cockpit lights needed to come on almost instantaneously. Otherwise, the driver would be in darkness for too long.
“We added additional sensors to the Cherokee so it could tell the difference between darkness in a tunnel and a shadow above the car. It took two sensors where we had only planned for one. Once we got there, we experienced how important it was in real life. As soon as you entered a tunnel, you could see the road and your dashboard perfectly without any delay.”
It takes a melting pot
Since the Cherokee was built on a Fiat architecture, the group worked with teams from Fiat. “Our Fiat colleagues added a huge aspect of cultural diversity,” says Knight.
European team members also participated in the test drives throughout Europe. She adds that teams out of Germany and Austria were indispensable. “They live in the areas where we wanted to be successful.”
Taking a new path to ensure a world-class launch
At Chrysler’s Toledo, OH assembly complex, James Gholston was the center manager for the Jeep Cherokee launch and assembly, which included trim, chassis and final assembly of the vehicle.
Gholston got his undergraduate degree in 1994 from Ball State University (Muncie, IN). He did two summer internship programs at the Indianapolis Chrysler Foundry (IN) between 1989 and 1990 and received a fulltime offer shortly thereafter. He earned a master of science in management from Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion) in 1998. He received a Modern Day Technology Leader award at the 2012 Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference.
Gholston says his work on the 2018 Jeep Cherokee was challenging and rewarding. His teams were some of the earliest to influence how the car would be built.
Strategies included doing some development work in the plant versus in the Chrysler Technology Center. “This gave us a unique opportunity to see how the Cherokee was put together and to give our input earlier on items that might cause build issues,” he says. “That advantage gave us the opportunity to get the vehicle to market quicker.”
Gholston says many decisions were hashed out in the Workplace Integration (WPI) room, where operators, engineers and representatives from safety, environmental, quality, logistics and other areas gathered to problem-solve the new Cherokee.
For Gholston, the combination of voices resulted in “world-class manufacturing for the Cherokee. We were able to take those principles out of the WPI room to the floor and deliver what individuals asked for,” he says. “We produced this vehicle knowing it had to be world-class from a quality standpoint.”
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