Ralph Gilles, Chrysler senior vice president-design, is best known for his styling of the dramatic ’05 Chrysler 300 sedan and ’14 SRT Viper sports car. Design is becoming increasingly important to top executives, who once placed little value on styling, he says.

“It’s more of a consideration by buyers, and more companies are investing more money in design,” Gilles says. “We’re also using design to differentiate more between our own brands.”

Auto makers are updating their designs more frequently, including midway through the product cycle, and such tweaks are becoming substantial.

“In the past, it was a quick little wheel change or maybe a bumper change,” Gilles says. “I think you are going to see a trend. It has already started to happen, where companies will probably do heavier midcycle enhancements. That is something we are looking at ourselves.”

Toyota long has been criticized for bland styling, but a recent edict by CEO and racing-enthusiast Akio Toyoda has pushed design to the forefront, says Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research, the North American arm of Toyota’s global design network.

“The number of brands in the marketplace is increasing and the competition is fierce,” he says. “Design is important, and you’ll see the continuation of bold design moves from Toyota and Lexus.”

Hunter admits Toyota lost its way, with cars like the Corolla becoming the poster child for boring, uninspired design. Why that occurred, he’s not exactly sure, but insists it won’t happen again.

“I think part of it was we were chasing volume, and those cars got left behind,” Hunter says. “We’re trying to recapture some of the dynamism we once had as an exciting and advanced car company.”