Two letters are helping shape the future of the automotive industry, according to Chrysler Group LLC’s head of design Ralph Gilles.

“UI,” also known as user interface or how people interact with their vehicles, is driving the way automakers design new vehicles and the technologies within them, he said.

“The car keeps reinventing itself,” said Gilles, Chrysler senior vice president of product design, during a speech Tuesday morning at the 2014 SAE Convergence in Detroit. “What we try to do at Chrysler is make cars as soulful as humanly possible, and now the interesting thing is giving the car a soul is becoming the next big thing.”

In the automotive industry, giving the vehicle a “soul” was traditionally done through design. While still true with today’s cars and trucks, new technologies that allow the vehicle to communicate with drivers are taking the expression to another level. He called it “connecting souls.”

Chrysler, according to Gilles, would like to increase its “UI department” to 50 people in the coming years to better develope that “soul” of its cars and trucks. The Auburn Hills automaker created the department in 2008 by combining a few people from IT with designers to create the Chrysler 200C EV concept, which featured a buttonless interior and a panoramic multimedia touch screen. The department currently has a handful of people, according to a company spokeswoman.

Gilles used numerous sci-fi movie references and examples to show how vehicles today have advanced to resemble fictional vehicles from Hollywood such as “Knight Rider.”

He said not all of the technologies dreamed up by Tinsel Town come to fruition, but ideas dreamed up decades ago in movies and TV shows such as being able to talk to the vehicle through voice recognition and self-driving features are actually making it into cars and trucks today.

Gilles also said to help make sure a vehicle’s UI is safe, the industry needs to collaborate more than ever before. He said the auto industry needs to play poker with one another a bit more and share information regarding what works and what doesn’t.

“The next thing is open innovation,” he said. “It’s time.”

Gilles was the first keynote speaker of the 2014 SAE Convergence taking place through Wednesday at Cobo Center. About 2,000 engineers and industry officials are expected to attend the conference, which started 40 years ago.

Key topics of this year’s SAE Convergence include autonomous and automated vehicles, human-machine interface and future technologies that will impact the automotive industry.

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