As It Tries to Gain Traction in Europe, Jeep Brand Boss Promises 'the Year of Jeep'
Two years ago, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne could barely contain his enthusiasm for the Jeep brand and its barely-tapped global appeal. A sales juggernaut in America, the rugged, go-anywhere brand had a stable of models ripe for the global picking. All it needed was more local production, more new models, and voila — world-straddling dominance.
Two years later, and the brand’s growth predictions are starting to look less than plausible. Marchionne hoped for worldwide Jeep sales of 2 million vehicles in 2018, but last year’s sales may well have been a glass of cold water in the face. While the brand’s strategy could still pay off, it’s going to take longer than expected to reach Marchionne’s target.
Forget the minor markets — Europe needs to learn to love Jeep, America needs to pick up the pace, and China can’t back off now.
Jeep’s global sales fell 1 percent in 2017, dropping to 1.388 million vehicles. In the U.S., sales of the seven-slot brand fell 11 percent (after 2016’s record tally). In Europe, despite a product push spearheaded by the second-generation Compass, sales only nudged upwards 2 percent.
The sales results were “disappointing,” said Jeep’s European brand chief, Jeff Hines, in an interview with Autocar. Earlier this year, Marchionne called the brand’s performance “lousy.”
Hines places the blame for the lackluster European tally on a delayed Compass launch. Another model, on sale since 2014, declined in spite of its Euro-friendliness. The Renegade saw its sales fall 4.8 percent in 28 European countries (and 3 percent in the United States).
This will all soon change, Hines said, calling 2018 “the year of Jeep” in Europe. The Compass is now in place, and new model introductions loom. Among them, the same next-generation Wrangler that set the internet ablaze with rumor in North America over the past two years. Also scheduled to appear is a restyled Cherokee, a facelifted Renegade, and — just maybe — a baby Jeep built off the Fiat 500’s petite skeleton.
FCA’s five-year plan comes out June 1st, so we’ll likely see confirmation then (dream on if you think you’ll get one here). We also might get a look at the updated Renegade, expected later this year.
Hines said getting the UK interested in Jeep is key, as locals on those misty isles traditionally stay close to the home-grown Land Rover brand. FCA needs to soften that resistance by communicating the brand’s attributes “in an easy to understand way,” he said. “That’s the biggest challenge for us.”
In China, buyers can look forward to a new model of their very own in the form of the three-row Grand Commander. It couldn’t arrive at a better time. Despite boffo volume growth last year, Jeep brand sales dropped significantly in China in 2018. FCA needs the Orient on board to reach its global goal.
Still, it’s not all dark clouds for the brand. Tentative good news is starting to crop up. Jeep brand sales rose 12 percent in the U.S. in February, year over year, and 7 percent over the first two months of 2018. Canadian Jeep sales rose 36 percent over those same two months. In Europe, Jeep sales rose 68.8 percent in January, year over year — its best sales month to date.
[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
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