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School of Industrial Design Grad Designs Exterior for 2018 Jeep Wrangler

Steve Goodrich started doodling pictures of cars and trucks as a little boy growing up in Vermont. It was a practice he continued in high school—he was the guy who was always drawing while taking notes in class. Goodrich is still sketching vehicles today. But now his designs are featured in real cars, including the exterior of the 2018 Jeep Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Wrangler, which was unveiled to the world at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

“To have a chance to influence the exterior of such an iconic vehicle is an honor and an amazing experience, so finally getting to reveal it, and get reactions to it, has been awesome,” said Goodrich, who graduated from Academy of Art University School of Industrial Design with a B.F.A. in 2009. “I was involved in the design process from start to finish, which was incredible, because I learned a lot.”

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Academy of Art University School of Industrial Design alumnus Steve Goodrich. Photo courtesy of Steve Goodrich.

Goodrich didn’t know much about career opportunities in car design when he began trying to figure out what he wanted to do after high school. But a fateful visit to the New York Auto Show when he was a junior provided him with a roadmap to his future.  

“At the show, I was looking around to see what I could do with drawing cars in college,” he said. “I came across a lot of technical engineering schools but that wasn’t what I wanted. Then I stumbled on the [Academy] booth and found out car design was actually a career you could pursue. I was super excited and went to the Academy’s Summer Art Experience that same year. I absolutely loved it and went straight to the School of Industrial Design after I graduated from high school.”

Goodrich got his feet wet in the auto industry with an internship at Nissan while he was a student at the Academy. After graduating, he worked for Volvo before joining FCA U.S. LLC as an exterior designer four-and-a-half years ago. He started out in the company’s Jeep studio, then moved up to his current position, senior exterior designer, in the advanced design studio. Goodrich began working on concepts for the 2018 Jeep Wrangler about three years ago.

Next, Goodrich and his team created scale models of their vision. They used clay to build some of the models. But because the Jeep is a very mechanical vehicle, Goodrich said most of that work was done with 3-D sculpting software. After refining their design, the team started working with Chrysler’s engineers to determine the most feasible ways to turn them into reality. According to Goodrich, the most challenging part of the project was retaining the legendary rugged looks and performance the Jeep is known for while also figuring out how to take the vehicle to the next level and make it even more appealing to customers.

“We weren’t starting with a blank piece of paper and creating something completely new where you could go off in any direction,” he explained. “The Jeep Wrangler is such an icon, you don’t want to mess that up. It’s a very functional vehicle and the off-road capability is amazing. Sometimes as an exterior designer, you just want to go sketch something that looks really cool. For this project, it was important that the design not only looked cool but added function and made the Jeep even better. We did a lot of work to keep the design true to the Jeep’s heritage.”

A few of the design elements he’s especially proud of include the front grill. Influenced by earlier CJ and TJ Jeep vehicles, his team tightened the grill to give it a more serious look. They also tweaked the overall appearance of the Jeep’s front end, making it a bit sleeker and more sculptured. The new fender design was inspired by the vintage Willys, the original World War II army jeep. Functional improvements include larger windows for better visibility and boosting the vehicle’s already exceptional off-road capability.

Goodrich credits his classes at the Academy for providing him with the core skills and foundation to begin his career in auto design. He also appreciated the invaluable opportunity to develop a network of industry professionals.  

“Getting to know those people while you’re still in school is very important,” he said. “I got my internship at Nissan as a result of meeting people in the industry who came to the school for portfolio reviews and looked at our work at Spring Show and other events. It’s really about the relationships you build and getting your name out there before you graduate.”

Antonio Borja, director of the School of Industrial Design at the Academy, isn’t surprised by Goodrich’s success. He said Goodrich exemplifies the values the school tries to instill in all students.

“Steve had an extremely strong work ethic and that inner drive to push himself to get better every day,” stated Borja. “As talented as he was, he always had time to help other students. Our department is like a little family—we encourage students to work hard and compete with each other. But the team’s objectives come first. That’s the kind of culture we want and that’s helped us build a good reputation in the industry.”