Jeep UK claims redesigned Cherokee pre-orders are ahead of target

Jeep UK claims redesigned Cherokee pre-orders are ahead of target

Fiat-Chrysler UK's Jeep brand is emerging from a nightmare of falling sales and dealers fleeing the brand to post nine months of consecutive growth, said UK chief Steve Zanlunghi.

Sales this year are up 70% and the brand posted its best first quarter performance for 10 years, said Zanlunghi, who is managing director, Fiat Group Automobiles UK and Ireland.

He was speaking at the UK launch of the redesigned Cherokee and said the brand had come a long way "since the darkest year of 2012".

That was when 28 dealers - more than half the network - were on notice, quitting because they couldn't make money selling Jeep.

Not having enough dealers to cover the country "means you can't advertise nationally because the nearest dealer could be more than two hours away from a customer," he said.

"It snowballs downhill."

Now the network is growing again and will reach 72 dealers by the end of this year, enough to give 82% coverage, and the network is returning to profitability. He expects sales to reach around 4,000 this year, up from some 2,200 last year, with 40% being sales of the new Cherokee which is a rival for BMW's X3 and Audi's Q5. Pre-launch orders are running 17% ahead of target.

"Just by having 13 new dealers we will see sales grow by 36%," he said.

Zanlunghi was also disappointed to find that Jeep's reputation was only slightly ahead that of Suzuki and Mitsubishi.

"We were trying to be something we weren't," he explained.

The focus now is on 'affordable luxury' as the brand takes on Volvo, Audi and BMW.

"We started to reboot the brand with the Grand Cherokee. We had lost our way with our core values of freedom and adventure," he said.

The rejuvenation of the brand will continue next year with the launch of the Renegade, a rival to the Skoda Yeti, Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman. It will be built at Fiat's Melfi plant in Naples and launched in LHD mainland Europe before arriving in the RHD UK and Ireland in the first quarter.

"We can watch and learn from Europe before launching here," said Zanlunghi.

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