The newly shown Jeep Cherokee has created quite a ruckus. Some like the design, some describe it in language unsuitable to a family-oriented site like TTAC. The fact is Jeep needs this. The mother-ship, Fiat, is taking Jeep international and while Jeep’s design language gets good points at home, it really doesn’t strike a chord among buyers worldwide. What’s more, Jeep doesn’t have that much of a heritage outside US borders. So, the Italians are free to do with it what they like. For starters, Jeep now sponsors one of the most popular football teams in Europe. That is a sure sign that the Jeep you knew and loved is going through profound changes that will either make it relevant, or send it bruised and bleeding to lick it wounds back home.
All you have to do is look at the story of the Renault Twingo to understand. Its designer, Patrick le Quément is known the world over and very influential. The Twingo was the car that made his career. The Renault establishment balked when le Quément presented his vision of the car. Undaunted, le Quément pushed it through. The car is now considered an icon of modern automobile design. If you have a pristine example, hold on to it. It might be worth a pretty penny 20 years from now.
When the 80s became the 90s, Renault was in a tough situation. Its conservative cars were quickly running out of gas in the market place. Newly hired chief designer le Quément proposed a radical new approach to design. He separated it from the engineers and product planners who, of course, were not pleased. So much so that they told le Quément the Twingo would have to be toned down from his radical vision. Le Quément appealed directly to Louis Schweitzer, Renault’s head honcho at the time: “The greatest risk is not to take any risks.”
Le Quément argued his case in a quintessentially French, counter-intuitive fashion, taking the results of the focus groups and turning them on their heads, “fifty percent of the participants hated it and 25 percent were dubious. However, 25 percent said they loved it.”
The French designer radicalizes, “retro is retrograde. It’s driving looking in the rear-view mirror, admitting that you’ve run out of ideas.” In other words, don’t just keep repeating yourself. Retro cars usually create a short bounce of excitement that the good old days are back, then their sales sink into oblivion.
Italians loved the Twingo. They bought it in droves. This story is well known in European design circles. You can bet that it was part of the reasoning for the new Jeep Cherokee. The past is fine and dandy. Nevertheless, Jeep needs to move on. I sincerely hope the lesson is not lost on the great car makers of the even greater United States of America.