ITALY: Jeep quick to change to keep customers happy
Mid-life update brings restyled nose
Jeep global sales were a record 701,200 last year, a 100% increase in just two years and a long way from the dark days of 2008/09 when ailing Chrysler Jeep was rescued by Fiat.
In the European region (an area that also includes the Middle East and Africa), sales last year were 55,200 with EU countries taking 28,000, a 20% jump over 2011. The brand’s best-seller is also its flagship model, the Grand Cherokee, which also had record sales last year of 220,000.
The current Grand Cherokee was launched only three years ago but has now been heavily revised to make it more appealing to European buyers.
“Feedback from customers in Europe told us that they wanted better on-road manners, better performance and greater fuel efficiency,” said Chris Ellis, regional head of Jeep, speaking at the launch of the revised model in Sicily.
He accepts that the Grand Cherokee’s on-road driving characteristics did not match those of many competitors, especially the newer entrants to the premium SUV sector.
“But many of them don’t have our off-road capability. We haven’t been as efficient nor as good on road as these new entrants so that’s what we’re now offering – an SUV without compromise.”
Kevin Metz, head of product planning for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) described the revised model, which goes on sale in most European countries from July, as “American to the core but with European appeal”.
The introduction of ZF’s acclaimed 8-speed automatic gearbox and a reworking of the VM Motori three-litre diesel engine has improved fuel efficiency by 10%, said Metz, and the engine will always start in ‘eco’ fuel-saving mode which the driver can override.
Changes to the Jeep line under Fiat’s guidance are coming thick and fast. The revised Grand Cherokee will be followed by the redesigned Cherokee which made its global debut at the New York show in April and will have its European debut at the Frankfurt show in September before going on sale by the end of the year and early in 2014 in the UK. It is built on the Alfa Romeo Giullietta platform which also underpins the Dodge Dart and will feature the ZF nine-speed automatic gearbox first seen in the Land Rover Evoque.
Later next year comes a B segment SUV - said to be about the same size as a Skoda Yeti - based on a version of the Fiat 500L platform which is expected to spawn several other models and is likely to be built in Italy at an existing Fiat factory.
Jeep’s major challenge in Europe is one of awareness, Luca Ricci, European product manager for Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, told just-auto.
While the Jeep name is known throughout the world, not enough people can name a Jeep model in much the same way that many people call all vacuum cleaners ‘hoovers’.
Sorting out the dealer network in Europe will help with the identity challenge. The approach taken by the UK is likely to be mirrored elsewhere. UK brand director Nigel Land has been pioneering a Chrysler-Jeep-Alfa Romeo tie-up in the 57-strong dealer network, 45% of whom also fly the Fiat flag.
“Chrysler, Jeep and Alfa Romeo are all seen as premium products,” said Land. And as the models move closer technically with greater platform and component sharing, it makes even more sense for the brands to share workshop space.
Land describes the arrival of the Grand Cherokee as "the relaunch of the brand in the UK".
Apart from the technical changes, cosmetic updates have been designed to give the Grand Cherokee a more premium look outside and in. The signature seven-slot grille is shorter, the headlights are slimmer and the lower front fascia has been slightly elevated while the fog lights have been raised and are more pronounced to give what Metz described as “a more elegant, sportier appearance while still preserving Jeep’s signature features”.
Most noticeable are the new high-intensity discharge bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights which are standard on all trim levels.
At the back, the tailgate has been reshaped to improve visibility and there are larger tail lamps with LEDs.