By on November 27, 2019

Today’s Question of the Day was generated by some comments on yesterday’s post regarding the new Jeep Grand Wagoneer. There, it was clear that two divergent camps of opinion were present regarding the model’s long hiatus.

Let’s explore this a little further.

In case you missed it, some spy shots have surfaced of the new Grand Wagoneer model in prototype form, as Jeep prepares to make its way back into the full-size, truck-based SUV market. Time for a history lesson.

Introduced back in 1963 when Kaiser Jeep was still an entity, the Wagoneer model debuted as a station wagon. Shortly afterward, four-wheel drive was added and the SUV began to take shape. Throughout the next couple of decades, increasing levels of equipment and power resulted in the birth of the Grand Wagoneer in 1984. The Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer birthed the American luxury SUV at a time when refinement was not the concern of truck and utility vehicle manufacturers.

In the days before the Range Rover, the Grand Wagoneer was family vehicle of choice for the well-heeled. Other full-size SUVs sprang up across the market from America, Japan, and England, as the Grand Wagoneer aged in place. 1991 was the final year of the old SJ model; Jeep decided not to offer a replacement for its full-size customers. Instead, in 1993 the Grand Wagoneer name was applied to a ZJ Grand Cherokee to create a top-line, wood-clad trim. Available for a single year, Jeep promptly gave up on the Wagoneer.

Image: 1993 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

In the years following, the full-size SUV became the go-to vehicle for much of America when an uncool minivan just wouldn’t do. Names like Tahoe, Suburban, Expedition, and Navigator were joined later by Sequoia and Armada. And still Jeep did not field a competitor. Hundreds of thousands of luxury SUV sales later, and Jeep’s just now getting back into the game. We’ve worked our way back to today’s question.

Was the lack of Grand Wagoneer for all those years careful product planning and name preservation on the part of Chrysler, or was it an instance where a product ball was continually dropped? Vintage Wagoneers have big-time value to many people, in original or (especially) restored condition. Was that heritage and product segment worth ignoring for nearly three decades? Off to you.

[Images: Jeep]

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52 Comments on “QOTD: Missed Opportunities, Thy Name Is Grand Wagoneer?...”


  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    I always wondered why ChryCo (under any of the previous owners) never did an SUV like the Tahoe or Expedition. Given the huge rise in popularity of the Dodge/Ram pickup- remember, before the beefcake look in ’94, Dodge was a distant fourth in the pickup market- why not give it four doors and a station wagon roof?
    Huge missed opportunity, and this new Wagoneer is 25 years late.

    • 0 avatar

      As was mentioned in the other thread CAFE was the Chrysler official answer from Lutz etc. This was before the had cuvs to badge as trucks. As I recall from a 90s interview Mopar had nothing to counter the effects of a large SUV. None of the keeps or Dakota got decent mileage while Ford had rangers , and soon the escape. GM had the S10 and tracker.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I suspect the cuplrit was Daimler – perhaps they didn’t understand the appeal of behemoth SUVs in the American market, or figured they were a passing fad and didn’t want to sign on. Given the success of the Durango, I have no idea how they’d have come to that conclusion. Either way, the revamped Durango/Aspen feels like a hedged bet. I can imagine some Daimler executive exclaiming, “Ze Durango iz zufficiently large and ve are not making anything larger.”

    No matter what the reason, this was clearly a massive blunder on Chrysler’s part.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “I suspect the cuplrit was Daimler”

      that’s pretty much the case 100% of the time. Why were the 2004/5 Durango and Dakota such ungainly, googly eyed crap? Daimler. Why was the Commander such a piece of crap? Because that’s what Daimler thought Jeeps were supposed to be.

      the most charitable description I can recall for the HB Durango was “it’s kinda shaped like an anteater.”

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    The ball was dropped continuously by the Jeep parent companies of Chrysler/Daimler and still by FCA. It was a prestigious name of a full size SUV when people were standing in line, cash in hand waiting to buy, so of course, GM, Ford, Toyota and Nissan got that business that Jeep willingly gave up, but it’s not too late for Jeep, people still want a full size upscale SUV from them, but we want it in our lifetime

  • avatar
    chaparral

    I used to work on Grand Wagoneer stuff at FCA; the problem is that it needs to be bigger than a Durango, and Jefferson North would need an expensive overhaul to build anything bigger than a Durango. That’s what’s always stopped them from doing it; whenever they had spare capacity and the ability to shut the plant down to retool, they had no money. Trying to squeeze a large, luxurious interior into a vehicle that can fit on that line results in a Jeep Commander.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “it needs to be bigger than a Durango”

      Why? After a little research I discovered the current Durango is quite a bit bigger (wheelbase= 116.2″ Length= 193.3″) then the original Grand Wagoneer (wheelbase= 110″, length= 186.4″) Based on the Durango, but perhaps more squared off to appear bigger Jeep could have had a full size SUV in the game all these years

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        Correct me if I’m wrong here— this whole argument is silly because it condenses 4-6 product cycles, two corporate merges and multiple economic events, into a single supposition/timeframe— but I’m guessing the factory has been refreshed in the intervening -thirty- years since Wagoneer production ended.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        This is an important point – the Grand Wagoneer was about the same size as the Grand Cherokee that we’ve had for over 25 years now, and the inflation-adjusted pricing puts it somewhere around a new Grand Cherokee Summit (~$50k). I mean, the existence of the Grand Cherokee probably means a new product from them would have to be bigger, and on some level, it is surprising that Chrysler hasn’t put an SUV body on a Ram chassis for the US market in as long as they have (saturated market or not, it wouldn’t take much to pay off those development costs), but I think we’re insisting the old Wagoneer was something it wasn’t.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          Big is relative, the SJ is just a GC now but it absolutely dwarfed the malaise junk that it sold alongside for most of its run. The SJ was 6″ wider, 9″ longer, and 6-900 pounds heavier than the ZJ GC.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            The current Grande Cherokee is not the ZJ platform. It’s a mod of the Daimler platform that became the 300, Charger, and Challenger. That’s bigger than the old SJ.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The SJ was the same size inside as the XJ, which would have replaced it if the Grand Wagoneer wasn’t the domestic vehicle with the best demographics of all at the time. AMC kept it because it printed money and the buyers didn’t care that it got 11 MPG.

            The history of the SJ is that at first there was just the Wagoneer, a 4-door SUV. There were also pickups, but it doesn’t matter. After several years, the Cherokee was introduced as a cheaper Wagoneer with two doors. Then they added a four door Cherokee as a cheaper Wagoneer. When gas became expensive and potentially scarce, the XJ was designed to replaced the ancient SJ. It was much smaller and lighter outside while being as capable and capacious as an SJ, a fantastic act of downsizing.

            That’s when the decision was made to call the SJ the Grand Wagoneer and the fancy XJ the Wagoneer. The little Wagoneer was a flop. The little Cherokee was a success, and soon the Wagoneer was superseded by the Cherokee Limited. When the SJ Grand Wagoneer was finally killed, it was decided to call the new SUV the Grand Cherokee. Cherokees were successful and Jeep wanted the new SUV to be a volume competitor for the growing Explorer and other competitors. The Grand Cherokee was bigger inside than the SJ Grand Wagoneer and did everything better except being exclusive.

            I’m old enough to have quite a bit of SJ experience from when they were new cars. The last time was when I was about seventeen years old and a friend’s mother’s boyfriend picked us up on a snowy day in a new Grand Wagoneer. As a 6’2″, 165 lb teen, I was shocked how small the Grand Wagoneer had gotten inside since I was a fifth-grader at a private school. The packaging of the SJ was very inefficient, and not comfortable for back seat adults no matter how soft the leather was and how fuzzy the carpet on the sides of the seats felt.

            The Grand Wagoneer name may still have some equity, but there’s no reason to let history dictate what it goes on. It was a tiny, two-row SUV that happened to be big on the outside once people learned how to design cars. The new one should be luxurious and expensive and distinct from the Grand Cherokee, but other than that Fiat should look to what is selling best in the price classes above the Grand Cherokee and build one of those.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      This is why it’s taken so long for the current one to get to market. It’s been in planning for a long time. During those years, JNAP and WTAP have been running nearly continuously above capacity. With the new 1500 at SHAP, finally WTAP has some breathing room and down time to retool.

  • avatar
    Jon

    I cant help but wonder if Ram will take the Wagoneer platform and develop its own Ramcharger version.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      FCA won’t do that.

      FCA’s ‘special sauce’ is to narrowly-define a product’s niche and to offer nothing in an internally-competing brand to violate that model’s market position.

      ie: The 2.0t AWD Compass TSi (that the market is begging for, by the way) will never be built because it would be a Stelvio at half-price.

      There will be no mid-size AWD Dodge with a potent engine or suspension tweaks, because it would be a Giulia competitor. Maybe nothing has been successful enough to receive the trickle-down, rather than being cancelled— but that logic doesn’t seem likely.

      We won’t see a RAM Grand Wagoneer because Grand Wagoneer is where the money is made. We won’t see a Chrysler Compass or Cherokee— and we won’t see Dodge Stelvio or Giulia.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        That’s too bad if that’s FCA’s business model. Who’s going to cross shop a Compass with a Stelvio? No one in North America even knows what that is. Very short-sighted on FCA’s part

        • 0 avatar
          iNeon

          Use your logic— a 280-300hp 4×4 Jeep Compass steps all over a Stelvio’s toes when its sold around $34k MSRP.

          No one in the United States would miss the 16:9 screens or the Italian trims— Compass’ interior is ideal and appropriate to our market. Class-leading and timeless.

          There aren’t enough negatives for the TTAC commentariat to even acknowledge the Compass lol

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Too many brands.

          • 0 avatar

            Now honestly, I don’t know the difference between Compass and Cherokee. Are they same size? Overlapping cost? Made in same place?

            I also had this issue with old Compass and Patriot.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “Now honestly, I don’t know the difference between Compass and Cherokee.”

            same as between Escape and Edge. C-platform vs C/D-platform.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            I always remember it this way, Escape= Focus, Edge= Fusion, Explorer= Taurus.

            Compass and Patriot were the exact same vehicle with different bodies. Now Compass= Renegade= FIAT 500X. Cherokee= The former Chrysler 200… I think

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Purists” will insist a Ramcharger has to be a two door, which would make it unsellable. The Durango is “big enough” for the segment.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    “wood”

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    No. Automakers often make the wrong call. And or they have long term plans that don’t make logical sense to the rest of us, and also stray wildly from their direct competition.

    Or they guess wrong on which way the market is heading. Take the Ford Ranger and Colorado/Canyon (comebacks).

    It’s clear, late ’80s Chrysler/Jeep(/Eagle) was systematically killing off everything fullsize and not looking back, possibly to end up as a “midsize and under” CAFE compliant/friendly automaker/group. And very little fleet involvement.

    Dead or on the kill list were Dodge industrial trucks, fullsize vans/cutoffs, Fury/Dip/5th Aves, Ramchargers and others.

    I’m positive fullsize (Dodge) Ram pickups were next to die. The Dakota was the new rising star, while fullsize pickups were neglected beyond comprehension, and about fleet only.

    But then Dodge Ram pickups were (unexpectedly) saved by Cummins followed by the fresh big-rig restyle.

    So under Diamler ownership, they had to rethink fullsize cars and big commercial vans.

    Worth noting, by the early ’90s, CAFE relaxed the “truck exemption” to include midsize pickups, minivans, all SUVs, CUVs and even PT Cruisers.

    At this point currently, FCA could not give a crap about CAFE. Bring on the Grand Wagoneer Hellcat and other fullsize, Suburban/Tahoe/Expedition competing Chrysler/Dodge SUV devil trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      Chrysler found great success running bigger small cars and smaller big cars.

      It was kinda magical for them to be the tweener/half-sizes company.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      For reasons I could never fathom, Iacocca seemed hell-bent on milking the K-Car platform for all it was worth, to the exclusion of all else.
      The LH cars, which started the renewal of Chrysler’s product line, came out in 1991, iirc. Followed by the Grand Cherokee, Ram pickup, Cirrus/Stratus, Neon and next-gen minivans. By 1995, the LH cars were pretty much the the oldest vehicles in the lineup.

      I worked for a company that supplied the D3 at the time. What Chrysler accomplished during this period was very impressive, and the subject of much admiration within Ford and GM.

      Then Daimler came along…

      • 0 avatar
        DweezilSFV

        ECT: Iacocca was on an acquisition and diversification frenzy into non automotive related industries[ AC and aerospace IIRC ], vanity projects like the TC, plus Diamond Star with Mitsubishi and buying AMC. Lots of nameplate overload that needed attention and weeding.

        I think there was lots of extra Chrysler cash and attention going to non core projects that could have been used to replace the K car platform.

        • 0 avatar

          The non automotive was pre iacocca. He was actually winding them down or selling them towards the end of his tenure. That said he did do things like the TC and buying Lamborghini, that were certainly vanity projects.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    The Grand Wagoneer was a throwback that sold on nostalgia ala Harley Davidson. Back in the day I don’t think I ever saw anyone under the age of 50 driving one unless it was an old clapped-out hand-me-down.

    The only way it could have survived as anything more than it was, would have been to get modern and go up in size. Jeep already had good mid-size offerings that sold well through that era. How many new customers would they have won away from other brands with a full-size?

    We all saw just how long Hummer lasted with virtually the same product plan. Sure they were a thing for a while, but they are dead and buried today.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    What kind name “Grand Wagoneer” anyways? Wagons are not popular now. And nobody rounds them up for defending themselves. Or Wagoneers will defend against Cherokees? If that’s the case, call it Jeep Alamo and be done with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Umm . . . nevermind.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I like “Wagoneer”, it’s like pioneer + covered wagon. An all American image

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        I would go with Pioneer. But honestly, I think, this “American Image” is a thing of the passed. Like all these mottoes – Land of Free, Liberty or death, etc. Nobody is ready to die for liberty and nobody is free here. So should go away idea of “wagons”. Who is watching westerns now? Now that world is falling apart, may be, appropriate names will be like Jeep Incursion, Intrusion, or Intruder.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    New grand Wagoneer will not have anywhere near the panache or desirability as the old one. It can be done but FCA has already stated this SUV will have independent suspension all around. Every bit as interesting as soggy bread.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      What is it with you and live axles? NONE of these things ever go offroad. Damned few of them ever tow anything of note, because Americans are allergic to towing with anything smaller than a full-size pickup. They are jacked up station wagons for mommies who are too cool for the minivan they actually need. Having a suspension that doesn’t suck is a benefit, not a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Independent suspension was chosen to avoid the axle hump in the 3rd row and provide more interior space which customers in this segment value. It would have been much cheaper to just take the 1500 frame and stick an SUV body on it, but consideration was made to compete better in this segment. The ’21 GM F segment SUVs will have IRS too.

      • 0 avatar
        DweezilSFV

        With special irony: flat floor in the third row for more room and a three foot tall and 2 foot wide console in the front compartment eating up space.

        I will say every car I have driven with IRS feels like riding in a bath tub and disconnected from the road. Sort of … flabby in actual use.

  • avatar

    Interesting that a year or two ago, an episode of the hit TV drama “This Is Us” revolved around dad Jack Pearson’s purchase of one of the last Grand Wagoneers. IIRC that factoid was even alluded to by the salesman as he and Jack worked out the deal.

    If you’re familiar with the show, you know multiple storylines – played out across generations – bring context to the current-day storyline.

    The Pearson Grand Wagoneer is depicted as a beloved part of the family, and continued to be their family vehicle for many years.

    I imagine FCA is counting on there being enough love out there for the old GW to sell plenty of the new one.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      I think they also counted on that with the Dart ;-} as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      The Grand Wagoneer IS a beloved part of wealthy families who only use them once a year to take the gang and make an entrance at the annual clam bake out on the Cape, because nothing says “old money” like an old Jeep Wagoneer, but as a daily? You’ve got to be kidding

      I think Jeep is counting on the “old money” connection to an established name, but realize they also need to be practical for today’s SUV needs

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    FCA not introducing a GW while Jeep has been on a tear seems like a mistake, right up there with Hummer not being around for the whole Jeep/SUV explosion

  • avatar
    dal20402

    In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the expensive private schools I then attended had a contingent of expensive parents who, unlike most of their expensive peers, chose to drive loaded Suburban Silverados. The old Grand Wagoneer was then seen as too out-of-date even for them, but I think a new one could have swung them from the Burbs. The issue is that neither AMC nor early 1990s Chrysler had a prayer of funding the development of an all-new SUV, and neither one had an existing platform that was suitable either. The best they could have done would have been a light facelift of the existing car with a modernized engine, which wouldn’t have cut the mustard.

    Even today, the only reason we are getting a new Grand Wagoneer is because the pickup market has evolved sufficiently that it made sense to design a new Ram 1500 that could also serve as the basis for the Grand Wagoneer. That … would not have worked with the ’90s Ram.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      yeah, this. the Grand Wagoneer was *seriously* obsolete by 1991, the architecture dated back to the 1960s so there was no way it could be “updated.”

      hell, I think the only reason they kept making it ’til then is because it basically printed money; all the investment was paid for by AMC years before. They didn’t even bother changing engines; it used the AMC 360 until the end.

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