Having re-birthed themselves at the taxpayers’ expense, one of Chrysler’s top priorities is restoring the brand equity that has bled out since the Daimler takeover. First up was the move to spin “Ram” off as its own brand, and now it seems that no-one is safe from “re-birth,” as UPI.com reports that Chrysler are rethinking their strongest brand, Jeep. Unfortunately, one man’s brand rebirth is another man’s brand betrayal. Chrysler want to replace all of Jeep’s products, except for the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee, and the idea is to utilise Fiat’s experience of fuel efficient engines as the basis for it. That means Jeep is likely to become smaller, more fuel-efficient and less off-road capable [rumors of a Fiat Panda 4x4-based Jeep (rendered above) date back to the earliest days of the Fiat-Chrysler alliance]. If you had to boil the proposed shift into a single word, UPI figures it would be “soft.” And the markets have reacted to this news in pretty much the same way you’ve probably just reacted: they think the idea is bad. Very bad.
“Chrysler has to protect the crown jewel,” Aaron Bragman, research analyst with IHS Global Insight, told the newspaper. “When Jeep sticks to its core values it does well. Jeep has always been a trucky off-road brand and whenever they got away from that it did not go well.” Gerald Myers, professor at the University of Michigan and former chairman of Jeep’s former owner, AMC, was a little less subdued in his reaction, “It’s a huge mistake….I couldn’t think of anything worse for the brand.” Mike Manley, head of the Jeep brand said that the brand is capable of broadening its urban appeal and is aware of the risks, “We don’t want to dilute what Jeep means,” he said. Which is probably what Cadillac brand managers said when they introduced the Cimmarron.