Jeeps plug-in hybrid era is about to begin

Jeep's plug-in hybrid era is about to begin

Having sold a stonking 242,969 Grand Cherokees last year in the US alone, FCA's Jeep division just keeps on breaking records, the age of most models seemingly not an issue to buyers. A new GC is coming in 2021 to succeed the by then 11 year old incumbent, with a raft of additional Jeeps joining it in segments which will be new to the brand. Might the 2020s be the best decade yet for the all-American brand?

"Our dealers did an outstanding job in 2019, not only with meeting consumer demand, but also handling the introduction of the redesigned Ram Heavy Duty and new Jeep Gladiator," said Reid Bigland, Head of US Sales, three days into the new year. "We have read the expectations that sales may slow a bit in 2020. However, we believe there is still plenty of demand in the market and we are ready for a new year."

How quickly things can change in this business, with FCA's US plants offline until the end of March, possibly longer, and Reid Bigland exiting the company. None of us knows what's ahead for Jeep, FCA, or the US economy but what we can be certain of, is an eventual rebound should sales start to tank any time soon.

Jeep has a product replacement schedule which seems to position it well for many eventualities: if buyers wants mild hybrids, PHEVs, perhaps even EVs, smaller SUVs, bigger ones and/or high end luxury vehicles, the brand is ready or soon will be. The early success of the Gladiator in North America also shows that a pick-up can work, and at a high pricing point to boot.

Segments: sub-4 metres to 5-plus long SUVs

Buyers in the US may not want it, but for Jeep to thrive in Europe, a sub-Renegade model will be very handy. An A segment SUV, which could be called Graduate, has been known about since FCA executives confirmed rumours of its development programme two years ago.

The baby Jeep will surely share a lot with the next Fiat Panda but as yet there has been no statement about where it will be manufactured. That is making some wonder whether this vehicle could be facing delays or even if the project has been placed on hold. The most likely plants to build it would be Pomigliano d'Arco near Naples or Kragujevac in Serbia. Probably the earliest we can expect this model would be 2022. Additional production in Brazil would not be surprising either.

The next Renegade should be released for North America's 2023 model year during the third quarter of 2022. It will likely be shown some six months prior to the start of production. Expect an evolution of the existing SUSW platform. There should also be both PHEV and EV powertrain options, with the second of the pair most likely to be for Europe but not North America. Expect an eight-year life cycle with a facelift in 2026.

The current Compass has been in production since September 2016. The most recent news was FCA Italia adding production at its Melfi plant earlier in 2020, followed shortly after by the Compass 4xe, which is the PHEV. This C segment SUV continues to sell extremely well across Europe and has been especially popular in Italy.

The next major news for the MP series Compass should be a facelift for North America's 2021 model year. A new model isn't due until the 2025 model year. It should either be based upon the same SUSW Evo architecture as the Renegade 2, or else one of the first vehicles for a future FWD/AWD modular platform.

The Gladiator is off to a strong start, with sales of 40,047 units in the US alone last year (FCA only reports quarterly so as yet there is no data for 2020). That's a strong performance for what is a premium-priced model which didn't begin rolling into dealerships until the second quarter of the year. Compared to the four-door Wrangler with which it shares many components, the frame is 31 inches longer and the wheelbase in excess of 19 inches lengthier.

New for the 2020 model year, this crew cab truck offers the choice of soft top or hard top and two transmissions for its standard 3.6-litre Pentastar V6. These are six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions. A 3.0-litre EcoDiesel will be added later in 2020. The gasoline engine's outputs are 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft with the diesel equivalents being 260hp and 442 lb-ft. The diesel was confirmed for European countries in July 2019.

FCA will update powertrains throughout the 2020s, meaning that the Gladiator will almost certainly be in production for a decade, maybe even longer. A facelift is scheduled for the 2025 model year. There will inevitably be some form of electrification, potentially a PHEV version of the next generation Pentastar V6 or else a plug-in hybrid 2.0-litre four-cylinder.

WL, next year's fifth generation Grand Cherokee, will use a stretched version of FCA Italia's Giorgio architecture. Production will remain at JNAP (Jefferson North Assembly Plant) but another location, the former Mack Avenue Engine Complex, is currently being readied as a second site. Opposite JNAP and also known as Mack Avenue Engine II, this now former powertrain plant was mothballed in 2012.

As well as new and freshened six- and eight-cylinder engines, the existing Hellcat supercharged V8 should be available in a special SRT Track Hawk variant. There will no longer be a diesel option so a 4xe (Jeep's badge for plug-in hybrids) will be offered in European markets. The new GC should be one of the first new vehicles to be fitted with FCA's forthcoming straight-six Pentastar gasoline turbo engine.

This Grand Cherokee is yet another example of FCA continuing with its strategy of keeping vehicles in production far longer than is normal for many rivals, and indeed, in contrast to what the former Chrysler Corporation did. The GC was once on a six-year lifecycle but the current model will be almost a decade old when it is replaced. At one time, production had been due to start in June 2019 but this was pushed back yet again. According to the specifics of the agreement reached between the UAW and FCA in December 2019, the WL series Grand Cherokee will enter production at JNAP in 2021.

The Grand Commander is a special model for China. Known locally as the Da Zhihuigan ('Big Commander'), it is a seven-seat rival for the Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Teramont and Ford Edge, powered by a 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine. It is built by the GAC-Fiat joint venture. The public debut was at the Beijing motor show in April 2018, with production having commenced a few weeks earlier.

Unlike the Grand Cherokee, the Da Zhihuigan is front- and all-wheel drive. It is built on the same production line at Changsha as the Jeep Cherokee. Both models use Fiat Chrysler's CUSW platform. The Grand Commander is effectively a long-wheelbase Cherokee.

The plug-in hybrid Grand Commander was a world debut at the Shanghai motor show in April 2019 but the first deliveries didn't take place for a further seven months. The PHEV is powered by FCA's GME-T4 gasoline engine and two electric motors. The maximum range on the battery pack is 70km.

All versions of the Grand Commander are due for a facelift in two years' time. The replacement model is pencilled in for 2025/2026.

There have been many, many delays to the WS project, with the latest information indicating that the Wagoneer and its long version, the Grand Wagoneer, will be in production at Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan in 18 months' time. There will also be plug-in hybrid versions. Although not officially confirmed, logic suggests that the architecture will be the same body-on-frame chassis as the Ram 1500 pick-up uses.

The Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will be Jeep's most expensive models, positioned above both the Grand Cherokee and a three-row SUV which FCA announced in 2018 that it was developing.

Reports for many other manufacturers' future models are grouped in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

More detail on past, current and forthcoming models can be found in PLDB, the future vehicles database. That includes Jeep vehicles which were not discussed in the above report.

This was the fifth feature in a series examining the current and future models of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' passenger vehicle brands. The first looked at Fiat and Lancia and that was followed by Maserati and Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, then most recently, Chrysler and Dodge. Ram will be the final brand to be featured.

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