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Ralph Gilles speaks before the Chicago Auto Show 2010

ralph gillesEvery year, the Economic Club of Chicago invites someone from the auto industry to speak at its annual luncheon. This year, Sergio Marchionne was to address the group, and it was widely considered to be a “hot ticket.” Mr. Marchionne ended up having to cancel his appearance, but recruited Ralph Gilles, SVP of Chrysler Group Design and CEO of the Dodge car brand, to take his place.

After the luncheon was served (full disclosure: I got a ticket, wore a suit as required, was served food, and ate it) and a couple of technical hiccups, Mr. Gilles opened with a showing of the “Man’s Last Stand” Charger Super Bowl commercial to great applause. While some have complained that it offended women, the ladies seated at my table (who worked in the banking and investment business) both loved the commercial, saying that “what’s to be offended about?” and “We got it - it’s a great commercial.”

With only 32 hours to prepare, Mr. Gilles was able to put together a not-boring, quote-filled, serious yet humorous discussion of the Chrysler Group - where they were, what happened, and where they are now. Some of the highlights from his discussion that I found memorable:

Ralph Gilles speech

Other notes from the speech (supplied by Allpar members in our forums):

What struck me the most during Mr. Gilles’ comments was his enthusiasm - it was infectious, and I got the feeling that Mr. Marchionne is the source of that infection. They know that it’s not going to be easy, and Gilles said that “the folks from the Fiat side are very sympathetic to what’s happening, as they went through a similar circumstance 4 years ago.“

Immediately after the conference ended, I saw a good number of the attendees - remember, these are Economic Club of Chicago members and not “media” people - heading for and checking out the Chrysler Group displays. Target achieved, Mr. Gilles - well done.

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