Over his more than 30-year career, François Castaing has been recognized as a visionary change agent who helped transform the automotive industry. As an executive with Chrysler, American Motors and Renault, his passion for cars was built on his desire to create and to make a difference in the lives of others.
Castaing was born on March 18, 1945 in Marseille, France. He attended l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts et Metiers, a top five engineering college in France created by Napoleon I in the early 1800s, who wanted to equip France with top-notch engineers. Castaing was admitted in 1964 through an entrance competition. He earned a 5-year degree that taught him a broad range of engineering.
While still a student, he did research work for Amedee Gordini, an Italian-born race car driver and sports car manufacturer in France. In 1968, he presented himself at Gordini’s workshop and asked for work. His first job was working on the engines for the Le Mans 24 Hours that year. He left at the end of the year to serve in the military and when he returned in the spring of 1970, Gordini had been taken over by Renault. When Gordini retired, Castaing was named technical director and under his guidance and Renault not only won the Le Mans 24 Hours but embarked on its Formula 1 program.
By the end of 1979, Castaing was promoted to a key role in the technical management of the American Motor Corporation which was Renault’s partner in the United States. He was named vice president of Product Engineering and Development and was critical in the development of the downsized Jeep Cherokee SUV that became very profitable.
By 1982, Renault had taken over and Castaing helped to develop models aimed at the U.S. market. In 1987, Renault sold AMC to Chrysler which became the Jeep/Eagle division of the Detroit firm. Castaing stayed on, and in 1988 became head of design for Chrysler. He led with a new approach in which teams of engineers focused on a single type of car platform, working on new models as a system from concept to production. He was quickly named Chrysler’s new vice president for Vehicle Engineering and called to engineer a variety of products to fit a growing number of market niches. Along with realigning a 6,000-member engineering structure into teams working on single platforms, he incorporated the use of simultaneous engineering. The results of switching to the non-linear platform design were significant. The Chrysler LH cars were first to use Castaing’s platform approach. These models were produced in a record 39 months compared to other Chrysler cars that took more than 50 months.
In 1996, Castaing was appointed executive vice president for Chrysler International Operations. After the Daimler-Benz merger with Chrysler in 1998, he became technical advisor to Chairman Bob Eaton until retirement in 2000. Castaing was also a member of the “Dodge Viper Team” creating the iconic car born from Bob Lutz’s brainchild and Tom Gale’s clay models.
Since 1994, Castaing has served on the Board of Directors for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) he is also a member of the United States National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
In 1998, Castaing became the chairman of the New Detroit Science Center (now the Michigan Science Center) and under his leadership, a $30 million capital campaign for its expansion and renovation was launched permitting it to reopen in 2001 with dramatically expanded exhibition space.
When he left Daimler Chrysler, Castaing served as a member of the board of directors for multiple manufacturing and automobile companies including, Exide, Durakon Industries, NextEnergy, Reynard Motorsport and Valeo. He also served on the board of the Federation of American Scientists.
In 2004, TRW Automotive Holdings announced the election of Castaing to the company’s board of directors.
He was named “Man of the Year” by the French publication “Le Journal de l’Automobile” for his exemplary success in the United States. He was noted for developing the Renault-AMC structure, the launching of Renault Alliance and Encore, for being the father of the Jeep Cherokee XJ, as well as being one of the craftsmen in the rescue of Chrysler.
In 2010, he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.