Irina Zavatski turns utility vehicles into functional art. She’s FCA’s Exterior Design Manager and she was responsible for the entirely new Chrysler Pacifica minivan and the 2019 refresh the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.
A mother of a ten-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl, Zavatski drove a minivan in suburban Detroit to discover what it was like. She noticed that minivan drivers didn’t get any respect, other cars were always cutting her off.
“We wanted to change the design from a boxy minivan to make it the most beautiful and stylish minivan,” says Zavatski who notes that the Chrysler Pacifica minivan is designed so that moms are proud to drive it but it also features functions for the entire family. She now proudly drives one herself.
There are three ways to open up the door on the Pacifica which are helpful if a parent is carrying a package or baby. The door can be opened with the door handle, via the key fob and if the key fob is present, using a wave of a foot.
She says it was also important for the second and third rows to be accessible for kids and grandparents to be easy to get in and out of. Space to haul large objects is another desirable feature. In the Pacifica, optional ‘Stow ‘n Go’ seating folds the seats into the floor.
“I can stow the seats and load up the back at Ikea,” says Zavatski. She notes that the Pacifica meets the Chrysler and Dodge standard that the interior can be used as a truck and easily hold 4’x8’ (1.21 x 2.43 metres ) pieces of plywood.
When she designed the Pacifica, she wanted to make sure that nothing was compromised. She spent endless hours sculpting clay models and then testing them in a wind tunnel to achieve the best aerodynamics. To meet fuel economy she used aluminum for some parts. Overall, Zavatski is pleased that Chrysler Pacifica handles very well in all weather, has good dynamics and it feels comfortable, “like your living room.”
”When my kids saw the first Chrysler Pacifica they were so proud— I’m always being asked to come to school career days,” boasts Zavatski. But it’s not only her kids that love the Pacifica.
“So many people walk up to me and say ‘I love my Chrysler Pacifica minivan,” says Zavatski who also managed the design refresh of the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.
“We had to switch the mindset. It’s important for designers to be in the shoes of the driver,” says Zavatski about the Jeep refreshes.
In order to work on the design refreshes, she went to the Jeep testing center in Moab, Utah to learn all the different functions necessary for off-road vehicles. The city offers red rock landscapes, the Colorado River, desert trails and extreme driving conditions.
Zavatski was off-road and noticed when the Jeep went through a big puddle, she needed to move the lights higher away from the water. The design team then combined the daytime running lights and projector, which freed up space to move up the fog lamps on the Trailhawk model. Using LED lighting allowed for a slimmer lamp and significantly improved lighting performance.
After driving through rough terrain Zavatski realised that the design of the Jeep Cherokee angles for approach and departure needed to optimised and changed slightly to deal with the rocks.
She says that many artists create art on a canvas with paint however when she sees a car design, it’s like a piece of art that is on the road.
Zavatski is a Jewish émigré. Her family fled religious persecution in their native, majority-Muslim Tajikistan in 1994 to move to the Cleveland, Ohio area.
Looking back, she says that in her native country she wasn’t a car fanatic, but she remembers playing with her brothers’ model cars. At the Cleveland Institute of Art, when she saw the transportation industrial design room and she saw the sketches, she knew she wanted to design cars. She’s glad that her family came to America.
“I’m thankful every day. It’s a very good life here. I get to do what I love. I get to sketch at work and I make a good living. I think there are opportunities in America in the arts that are not present in any other countries.” Zavatski seems a very happy camper.