Dealers Think Jeep's New Grand Wagoneer May Have Missed Its Sales Window

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Fiat Chrysler has some of the best three-row vehicles on the domestic market right now but, if you’re not a fan of minivans, you probably couldn’t care less about them. Dodge’s Grand Caravan remains a darling for budget-conscious families and fleet managers, despite being stuck in its fifth generation for over a decade. Meanwhile, the Chrysler Pacifica takes the Caravan concept and adds modern refinement at a higher price point.

The problem is that neither are SUVs. Even though Dodge does have the Durango on offer already, FCA chief Sergio Marchionne has been begging engineers to come up with a three-row SUV that would surpass the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban since at least 2013. The theory was to produce a hulking and rugged luxury vehicle that could compete with Land Rover and swipe some business from the domestic luxury rivals. He was heralding the return of Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

However, the vehicle’s development has been plighted with delays and the initial vision has become muddied. While it’s still coming, dealers are beginning to wonder if the model has missed its opportunity as gas prices climb, sales stagnate, and material costs rise.

“I think our window of opportunity is closing,” a veteran FCA dealer explained to Automotive News. “We could have killed with [the Grand Wagoneer] if it had been available when they first told us about it, but it’s a much tougher sell with interest rates and gas prices going up.”

That certainly has been true over the last few months but the expanded outlook on fuel prices is really anybody’s guess. Shale oil could quell domestic fuel prices quite a bit but OPEC has still agreed to cut production in the coming years. Regardless of the confusion and volatility, the average price per barrel will go up quite a bit in the longterm. North American consumers just won’t be hit quite so hard.

Fuel isn’t the only deciding factor of the Grand Wagoneer’s success, though. John Murphy, a research analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told the Automotive Press Association last week that the “Goldilocks” period for auto retailing was wrapping up.

“The Grand Wagoneer will still sell because it’s a Jeep,” a second dealer said. “But it would have been nice to have them already.”

SUVs will still be big business for automakers for the foreseeable future but the increased cost of raw materials, highly competitive used-car values, and creeping interest rates means fewer consumers will have the means to purchase the really big ones. There is also a lot of competition right now. Premium and entry luxury manufacturers have all driven hard into utility vehicles over the last few years. As a result, FCA decided to shift the Wagoneer downmarket slightly to compete more closely with the Suburban and Expedition. In January of 2017, Marchionne said Jeep would assemble the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer as body-on-frame vehicles. It’s still supposed to be able to go toe-to-toe with Lincoln and Cadillac but it probably won’t be chasing Land Rover anymore.

Likely a wise move, but the change forced FCA to push back the production date even further. The SUV is now presumed scheduled to appear for the 2021 model year, meaning assembly wouldn’t start until 2020. “We’ve been working on it for several years,” Jeep head Mike Manley explained earlier this year. “It has a long gestation period, and will be clearly positioned significantly above Grand Cherokee.”

While we’ve seen images of Wagoneer test mules floating around the internet, Jeep employees have been clear that the brand hasn’t decided on the vehicle’s styling. Hopefully the end result doesn’t pursue a similar trajectory as the Jeep Commander, which was introduced to accommodate larger families but crashed and burned during the Great Recession and spiking gas prices.

[Image: FCA]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • R Henry R Henry on Jun 18, 2018

    Ford's new Expedition and Lincoln Navigator will be re-writing the standard for the big SUVs. Escalade will be playing follow up, as GM tends to do, and the FCA product will be "in development" until FCA becomes a subsidiary of Geely.

    • Mopar4wd Mopar4wd on Jun 18, 2018

      While I would say the possibility of a buy out is there, I would have to assume now that Alfa is paid for and released new Ram is out and New wrangler I have to imagine the priority list would go Wrangler pickup then 3 row jeep.

  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Jun 18, 2018

    So, a Power Wagon with 3 rows should be pretty easy.

    • Zipper69 Zipper69 on Jun 20, 2018

      a V6 with turbo (extra for twin turbo) 4WD seven seats and a chunky style. Range rover have scooped up the luxury market, they need to go "rugged" and trade of the Jeep charisma...

  • El scotto I look forward to watching MTG and Tommy Tuberville when the UAW comes to their states.
  • El scotto Vehicle company white collar (non-union) engineers design the parts and assembly procedures. The UAW members are instructed on how to install the parts. Engineers are also in charge of quality control. The executives are ulimately responible for the quality of their products.
  • Chris P Bacon I don't care either way, the employees have the right to organize, and I'm never going to buy a VW. But.... It would be interesting if the media (HINT HINT) would be able to provide a detailed look at what (if anything) the VW workers gain by unionizing. There will be dues to pay. How much? I bet the current policies, pay and benefits mirror other auto companies. When all is said and done an the first contract signed, my money is on the UAW to be he only ones who really come out ahead. That leads into my next comment. Once a union is voted onto the property, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. Even if the membership feels the union doesn't have their best interests in mind, the hurdles to get rid of them are too high. There were a lot of promises made by the UAW, even if they don't deliver, they'll be in Chattanooga even if the membership decides they made a mistake.
  • 1995 SC How bout those steel tariffs. Wonder if everyone falls into the same camp with respect to supporting/opposing them as they did on the auto tariffs a few weeks ago. Doubt it. Wonder Why that would be?
  • Lorenzo Nice going! They eliminated the "5" numbers on the speedometer so they could get it to read up to 180 mph. The speed limit is 65? You have to guess one quarter of the needle distance between 60 and 80. Virtually every state has 55, 65, and 75 mph speed limits, not to mention urban areas where 25, 35, and 45 mph limits are common. All that guesswork to display a maximum speed the driver will never reach.
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