On a warm week day in early June, the minds of middle and high school students tend to be fixed on the countdown to the start of summer vacation, not their future careers.
But fill a school parking lot with more than two dozen brightly colored cars, trucks and concept vehicles and it plants seeds that may sprout years later.
That’s the fuel for the “Where Innovation Meets Design” car show at the Utica Community Schools district in Southeast Michigan, which is now in its ninth year.
Chrysler Group has been a strong supporter of the event. This year the company brought 15 vehicles — a mix of production cars such as the new 2015 Dodge Charger and Challenger and Jeep Renegade, along with concepts such as the Jeep Wrangler MOJO and Ram Truck Rumble Bee — and more than two dozen members of the design staff.
The auto industry has a growing need for designers and design engineers, says Joe Dehner, head of the Ram Truck and Dodge exterior design studios and leader of the Utica car show effort for Chrysler Group.
The car show is one way to show teens that car design is a viable career. Such shows become more important as schools around the country deal with smaller budgets and cut backs on arts programs, Dehner says.
“So many of my guys today look at this and go, ‘Wow, this is a lot different than what we had,'” Dehner says. “They might be a bit jealous.”
Inside the school, students saw the tools used in car design studios, including clay models and a computerized sketching system demonstrated by Tim Doyle of Chrysler Group’s Advance Design studio and Rimon Ghobrial (above) of the Dodge design studio. Some students got the chance to try their hand at computerized sketching, and each student left with a Chrysler Design branded sketch pad to exercise their imagination.
Outside, hundreds of students wandered through the car show, which also included some cars and representatives from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, set up in the front parking lot of the school district’s Center for Science and Industry. Students could climb in and out of vehicles, and talk with designers and engineers.
Drawing a crowd of cellphone-wielding teens was easy. Firing up the 556-hp 426 HEMI V-8 in the Dodge Challenger 1320 concept sent its unmuffled exhaust thundering across the neighborhood.
Several teens at the event were set to begin driver training this summer. Their idea of a great first car ran the gamut from the exotic Stryker Green SRT Viper on display to Ram Truck pickups. More than once a group of teens had fun getting five friends seated inside a Fiat 500.
Not surprisingly, another display with a constant crowd was the 2015 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack configured as a video game driving simulator, complete with working controls and an active driver seat.
Video games are one of the main ways that teens discover cars today, and are an important tool for getting them interested in a career in the industry, Dehner says. “Hopefully we inspire them and help guide them into certain things when they graduate, that would be awesome.”