Jeep, No Longer Unstoppable, Wants to Fix Its Game in an Overlooked Market

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
jeep no longer unstoppable wants to fix its game in an overlooked market

After posting sales gains that most automakers would sell their souls for, Jeep’s skyrocketing climb hit the upper limits of the atmosphere in September, with sales dropping by 3 percent compared to the same month a year ago.

Maybe the Jeep brand isn’t bigger than Jesus. With the new vehicle market cooling off and two of its oldest — but still strong-selling — models being pared down to one, Jeep needs to branch out to keep the momentum going.

It has products up its sleeve — a Wrangler pickup and $140,000 luxo-ute to name a couple — and has factories planned for developing nations everywhere, but Jeep could reap a sales reward if it stopped screwing up in one obvious but overlooked market.

With the exception of the American Southwest, Australia seems tailor-made for the Jeep brand. There’s warm temperatures, beaches, desert, and a patriotic thirst for off-roading and vehicles that buck the norm. Hell, the place is nearly all rural.

And yet, Jeep sales are dwindling to pathetic levels Down Under. What went wrong at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia?

For starters, the company was rocked by a scandal, with FCA Australia suing former Jeep boss Clyde Campbell for allegedly misusing $30 million in funds during his three-year stint (2010-2013). His successor Pat Dougherty, stepped down (or was pushed out) in August, two years into his three-year contract.

In 2015, a record-setting year for Australian new vehicle sales, Jeep saw its sales tumble 19.7 percent. That’s a tally of 24,418 Jeep vehicles for the whole year. The last time the U.S. recorded a monthly sales figure that low was in 2010. Australian Jeep sales in the first half of this year are down 51 percent. Is it a hemisphere thing? What goes up in America goes down in the outback?

FCA Australia’s newest boss doesn’t think so, and feels he knows exactly what the brand’s problem is. According to the Aussie publication Drive, Steve Zanlunghi claims the brand’s marketing is all off, and says he wants to reclaim the historically tough, go-anywhere appeal that has drawn customers — military and civilian — to Jeep from Day 1.

“It’s not a cute brand,” Zanlunghi told reporters this week. “It’s not a funny brand. It’s not luxury. It’s not pretentious.”

A new ad campaign is poised to launch, one that takes the place of a panned commercial that had Australians incredulously asking “You bought a Jeep?”

“I tell you I wasn’t terribly happy with what some of the direction I saw most recently,” Zanlunghi said. “If we don’t understand what the brand is, then how do we expect dealers to understand it and ultimately customers, do they know what it is? So I put together a manifesto for what the Jeep brand here is Australia and presented it to our creative agency and they get it, and then to the national sales company and they get it and finally to the dealers and they get it and they’re on board.”

Australia hasn’t escaped the SUV/crossover craze sweeping the planet, with SUV sales up nearly 16 percent last year. Market share for utility vehicles is closing in on percentages seen in the U.S. If Jeep Australia stops shooting itself in the foot, there’s gold to be found in them there hills.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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  • FalconRTV FalconRTV on Oct 16, 2016

    When I think of Jeep, my mind has images of cheap interior plastics and the connection with jaded Chrysler products. Their products look odd and are probably not very off-road capable (Wrangler excepted?). A friend had a 2014 Grand Cherokee with adjustable suspension that would overheat if the highest setting was engaged for more than few minutes in the rough stuff. I bought an FJ Cruiser instead.

  • Gtem Gtem on Oct 17, 2016

    You'd have a hard time convincing me to buy a Wrangler Unlimited in a market flush with used Y60 Patrols, Prado 70s and 90s, Land Cruiser 70/80/105, boatload of diesel Pajero IIs, etc. I think when push comes to shove, the Wrangler is simply not as reliable/durable 'in the bush,' nor is it anywhere as supported in terms of getting your hands on spares in remote areas of Australia. Another very non-trivial factor is that even the 4 door Wranglers are simply not a good choice for what Australians call "touring," or overlanding in the US. Solid front axles lose a bit of their cachet, but payload and cargo capacity play a much larger role. In the US the default picture of offroading is a Wrangler on 37s flexing over rocks, in Australia I'd imagine it's driving some remote two track in a Land Cruiser 70 for a week or more and doing water crossings and such. In a similar fashion, Wranglers are novelty grey import play things for rich guys in Russia. People serious about doing a trek into the taiga or into the mountain ranges and steppes near Mongolia almost universally stick with older Japanese rigs, or seriously worked over Russian UAZ (a few Lada Nivas here and there too). The Russian stuff is very budget friendly and parts can be found in any tiny little backwater village (there's a fairly good chance you'll need them unless you already packed it as a spare). The Japanese 4x4s are stupendously well built, particularly well liked are the Land Cruiser 80, 105 and Nissan Patrol Y60. All have solid front axles by the way.

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    • Gtem Gtem on Oct 17, 2016

      @heavy handle heavy, again I think the problem is that the "touring" crowd that makes up the majority of offroaders in Australia doesn't see the Wrangler as a good fit at any price. The cute-utes, sure I could see them finding their place in the cities. This ad kind of sums it up :p But yes a strong US dollar is having a very strong impact on any business that exports a US-sourced product right now, speaking from personal experience.

  • Arthur Dailey When I grew tired of the T-Bird trying to kill me by refusing to start at the most inconvenient times/places, I replaced it with a '79 fullsized Dodge (Sportsman) van. Similar to this but with a different grille and rectangular headlights. The 4 'captains' chairs in my van were pretty much identical to the ones in this van. Mine certainly was not as nicely finished inside. And it was a handful to drive in snow/ice. One thing that strikes me about this van is that although a conversion it does not seem to have the requisite dark tint on the windows.
  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.