Jeep Wagoneer S design details: young designers, aero tricks, cool materials

We spoke with Stellantis Chief Design Officer Ralph Gilles at the Jeep Wagoneer S reveal, and he shared a bunch of interesting tidbits about the development of the electric SUV’s design. And among our questions was why the Wagoneer S was the lead for an electric Jeep, especially as the Recon seems more obviously Jeep. Gilles said that a major factor was the desire to offer something with significant range, noting that the 300-mile range was an important target. That naturally lent itself to something lower and more aerodynamic.

As for when design work started, Gilles said it was about four years ago, and something he brought up during the main reveal presentation was that the Wagoneer S design team was primarily made up of Millennial and Gen Z designers. The main sketch that was guiding project was done by a 29-year-old. We asked him how that happened, and he said it really was a happy coincidence. The EV project seemed to attract the younger designers. He was impressed with how collaborative they were, saying, “They became kind of like a family,” as well as how they had “no paradigms” or constraints to what had to be a Jeep. He also said he was “proud of the maturity of the design,” how it didn’t look obviously like an EV.

The young design team also contributed to some of the Wagoneer S’s materials decisions. He said they were instrumental in moving away from more traditional luxury materials like wood, favoring instead all variety of metal trimmings including aluminum and zinc. Chrome was out, too, due to its environmental issues (chrome plating involves some pretty nasty chemicals), and it being more on the traditional side. 

On the topic of materials, something that we were immediately excited to hear when Gilles announced it was the lack of piano black plastic in the interior. In some areas where it would normally be used, ceramic-coated and textured aluminum takes its place. Gilles told us that this was partly due to customer feedback regarding fingerprints and scratches. He even told us that Jeep actually gives new Wagoneer owners microfiber cleaning cloths to help keep the panels clean in those SUVs. 

Aerodynamics are of course an important factor in an EV to get range, and especially for the Wagoneer S with its 300-mile target. Key to getting there was the “R-Wing,” which hides the Wagoneer S’s sloping fastback. And Gilles revealed in the presentation that styling was the only reason for it at first. Certainly it did allow for a more traditional SUV look with fastback aero, but that was all it did. But he added that eventually the aero team was able to make the wing more functional.

2024 Jeep Wagoneer S

We asked about the exciting and challenging aspects of designing an EV, and Gilles said a big one was “trying to reestablish the iconic grille of Jeep without having a grille.” He “welcomed the freedom of not worrying about cooling,” but then what do you do with things like that piece of design iconography? Indeed, the Wagoneer S grille is solid, and what the team did was fit lights above the grille slots that would reflect the light back out. We asked if they had thought about doing something like on the Charger, which employs the “R-Wing” idea to the front grille. Gilles said that wasn’t an option for the Wagoneer S as having a usable frunk was important on a utility vehicle, and a pass-through grille with vent would eat into that.

One of the last things we asked about was the Trailhawk concept and the story behind it. Turns out, it was a pretty recent development. Gilles said that when Jeep was planning its EVs, the Wagoneer S was designed to be more of the high-range luxury model, and the Recon would handle more of that Wrangler-style off-road capability. “But we can’t help ourselves,” Gilles said, and so of course they wanted to try doing a Trailhawk version. He also pointed out that Jeep does Trailhawk versions of just about every model, so it was only natural to try applying it to Wagoneer S.

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