This might sound a bit dull to most of you, but I was beside myself when I heard that Klause Busse would be attending the recent launch of the new Jeep Cherokee in SA.
You have probably never heard of him, but don’t concern yourself about that. Up until a week before the Cherokee’s launch, I hadn’t either.
Fortunately the nice people at Jeep were kind enough to send me Klause’s bio before I flew down to George to meet him, and it was after reading this interesting document that my excitement levels shot through the roof.
Busse is the head of interior design for Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram. In other words, he’s the man who decides what the cabin of every model from these manufacturers will look like.
I’ve always wanted to meet someone whose job it was to design vehicle interiors. Over the years I’ve met many exterior designers, but never before have I had the pleasure of talking interiors with someone who actually designs them.
You see, in my humble opinion, the exterior design of a car really doesn’t matter much. Sure, it’s different when it comes to cars like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Alfas, but exterior styling just doesn’t count for much on an ordinary passenger vehicle.
Why, you ask? Well, just think about it. You see the exterior of your car for two to three minutes every day, but the rest of the interaction between a man and his machine takes place on the inside. I’d rather my car looked fantastic on the inside, where I spend an average of two hours a day, than on the outside.
Busse agrees with me on this one, although his reasoning is far more eloquently stated than mine. “The exterior styling is the flirt, but the interior is the marriage,” he says. What a good way to describe the importance of a beautiful yet functional vehicle interior.
The interior of the new Cherokee is very good. It’s made from quality materials, is nice to look at and is easy to understand. Those are the three main things I consider when examining the cabin of a new car.
The first and probably most revealing test is the how-quickly-can-I-mate-my-phone test. In the Jeep it took me less than a minute, because the Uconnect system is one of the best in the business. My month-old son could mate a phone to the new Cherokee.
Busse, however, took me much deeper into the development of an interior than how easy it is to use.
Did you know, for example, that it costs roughly R50-million to design a decent looking electric window switch? No wonder so many parts are shared between models these days!
Over the last year or so I’ve been annoyed to find Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi doing this, but I’m not any more. If settling on an electric window button costs that much, can you imagine the costs in developing the heated massaging seats in a Mercedes S-Class?
The other part of our conversation that stuck with me was the inspiration for some of the interior fittings. The centre armrest on a Grand Cherokee has a small release latch underneath that, when pulled upwards, reveals a cavernous stowing space. I never thought about that little piece of plastic until Busse told us where the inspiration for the pattern on the plastic came from.
He was standing at a lake one day in search of inspiration, and picked up a pebble. He liked the way it felt and the way it looked, so he stuck it in his pocket and had his team scan it into a computer. This scan later became the inspiration for that little piece of plastic. That’s an insane amount of effort for a latch that you can’t even see from the driver’s seat.
What I loved about Busse was the obvious passion he felt for his product. The interior of the new Cherokee has a number of “Easter eggs”, which he hopes the customer will find at some point.
An “Easter egg”, for those not familiar with film or gamer lingo, is an unexpected and undocumented feature included as a bonus in something you acquire. I found three in the Cherokee, but there are people on off-road forums who have found five. Who knows how many there are?
I don’t want to spoil things for potential owners, but just know that they are there, waiting to be found. One clue, though: be on the lookout for a familiar shape.
What a grand concept. I hope this is something other manufacturers take note of.
These days cars really are much of a muchness and it’s the small, seemingly insignificant details like these that make all the difference.