By on January 20, 2020

All-new 2018 Jeep® Wrangler Rubicon

While I don’t particularly agree with all the criticisms Lee Iacocca has thrown at Japan, his most polarizing claim (published in Playboy, no less) — that its citizens certainly know Jeep because “they saw enough of them in World War II” — has bizarrely continued to ring true. As far as American automotive brands go, Jeep has been Japan’s favorite for a while. And it only needed to tamp down its relationship to “The Big One” slightly to get there.

However, the sales game is always relative.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing brands on the market, Jeep only netted itself 13,360 deliveries in Japan for 2019. But consistent growth since 2013 has to account for something, especially when the overall market is performing so poorly. At the very least, it shows American brands can make some amount of headway on a nut Iacocca believed uncrackable. 

Japan’s dislike of U.S. (yes, we know Fiat Chrysler is about as American as spaghetti and French toast) cars stems from the occasionally correct presumption that they’re a bunch of oversized, overpriced, and inefficient garbage — we’ve covered it before. However, FCA Japan CEO Pontus Haggstrom believes Jeep has managed to find a niche by framing itself as the company that invented the sport utility vehicle. The claim is difficult to qualify, especially considering there’s no global definition for what distinguishes SUV from crossover.

The United States has some pretty strict ideas involving body-on-frame construction (though that’s dwindling due to marketing efforts), while other parts of the world simply need something to be all-wheel drive, have a hatchback, and/or possess better ground clearance than your average car to be considered SUV-worthy. But Jeep certainly has its thumb planted in enough pages of automotive history to receive several well-earned mentions.

“I don’t know if we have redefined the notion of American cars in Japan. I hope we have,” Haggstrom said to Automotive News last week. “The cars are not overpriced gas guzzlers with no quality — you know the perception. But we also, to be honest, don’t really push the American heritage that much.”

Haggstrom helped illustrate this by adding that the Jeep brand accounted for 54 percent of the manufacturer’s sales in the region. “The main reason for our growth has been the sales movement of the Jeep brand,” he said, noting that Jeep’s sales growth rate was twice that of Japan’s overall crossover/SUV segment. For 2019, Jeep saw a 16-percent improvement in annual sales, even as the Japanese passenger vehicle market dropped 1.5 percent. Meanwhile, import brands sales slipped by 3.2 percent as FCA moved up by 9 percent.

For the sake of comparison, Chevrolet only sold 585 vehicles to the Japanese people in 2019 (down 33 percent from 2018) and it’s the second-best selling American brand on the market.

The Wrangler is currently doing the heavy lifting in Japan, with the larger Grand Cherokee and the smaller Renegade quickly picking up steam. Haggstrom estimates the trio will help push Jeep past 14,000 annual deliveries in 2020 and praised FCA’s continued investments to make Jeep a global brand.

It’s been paying off. Whist making inroads in Japan, Jeep has managed to bolster volume in other markets. In Europe, Jeep managed to deliver on its claimed “currency of capability” by undercutting higher-end rivals with similar off-road appeal. In 2018, it sold 166,500 units in Europe and bested Land Rover for the first time in history. Market share has also been growing in South Korea, where Jeep is making sure the Wrangler is getting as much attention in as many different settings (off-road, rural, urban, suburban) as humanly possible — similar to how it’s handling Japan.

China has proven more difficult for practically every foreign manufacturer to manage, but Jeep has made some progress — and has constructed a plan to electrify its lineup in the hopes of improving both Chinese and European volumes further down the line. That’s probably a necessary gamble if you want to tackle the global landscape. As a byproduct, North America will see a couple of new hybrid models and maybe a pure EV over the next few years.

[Image: FCA]

 

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38 Comments on “Jeep Remains Only ‘American Brand’ Japan Seems Willing to Tolerate...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    “ The United States has some pretty strict ideas involving body-on-frame construction (though that’s dwindling due to marketing efforts),”

    Marketing cannot fix the fact that a unibody vehicle cannot go the places or withstand the long term stress of a body on frame vehicle. This has been proven repeatedly. Additionally the suspension designs being used on all of the faux off-road minivans is barely capable of supporting the tire setup they leave factory with, forget about potential consumers that actually want to increase capability beyond the gravel road capability of most of these crossovers. I don’t see Jeep Renegades running around on 37”s and don’t expect that I will anytime soon.
    * Que a link to google with the one Renegade running 37s and 7.56 gearing*

    • 0 avatar
      shane_the_ee

      The XJ Cherokee was a unibody…

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Yes and the Jeep Cherokee is the poster child for unibody issues, look at how many people have had to purchase exoskeletons for the unibody to be welded where the frame should be, look at the number of units that have taken trails that distorted the uniframe to the point that the doors no longer line up or close at all.

        The Cherokees have probably had the most amount of money of any unibody platform and beefing up the body is of great concern to those that try to wheel them.

        • 0 avatar

          Most XJ’s were fine with the uni body I abused mine hard when it was 15 years old, never an issue. When you really heavily modify them they have issue but considering full size GM pickups used to crack the frame by going up a tire size I’m not really sure that’s purely a unibody issue.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            It was overbuilt for a unibody, since it was Chryslers first attempt at unibody truck.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            “It was overbuilt for a unibody, since it was Chryslers first attempt at unibody truck.”

            AMC designed the XJ, not Chrysler. Chrysler extended the concept to the ZJ and WJ Grand Cherokees though.

            Nor would it have been Chrysler’s first unibody truck. The B-vans were similarly constructed starting in the early 70s.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      There are places and residents in the United States that are only accessible by 4×4 vehicles with decent ground clearance, the continued insistence on pushing people into low riding crossovers with ridiculous AWD setups that have no real world benefit over 2wd instead of selling these consumers affordable BOF vehicles with true 4×4 is going to begin causing a real issue for these residents as the supply of such used vehicles begins to dwindle.

      The only new product they have to choose from today to get to their homes or businesses are pickups, 4Runners, and the Wrangler. Seeing as the ground clearance on the new GM SUVs have been shot in the foot it will be the end of their presence going forward in these places.

      • 0 avatar
        The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

        And given that the American consumer clearly hates full size pickups, the OEMs much be absolutely terrified.

        Oh. Wait.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          “ And given that the American consumer clearly hates full size pickups, the OEMs much be absolutely terrified.

          Oh. Wait.”

          Who said that?

          Frankly since the American consumer does love pickups as much as they do you would think manufacturers would add a cap to the back of those trucks and start selling SUVs based off of those trucks, yet no such vehicles exist.

          • 0 avatar
            conundrum

            One of these days the rest of us might like to hear a rant that doesn’t include the continual line of blinkered nonsense you espouse. Few people who buy Jeeps put them through your theoretical off-road antics. Or could care less about capabilities in such cases – it’s a niche hobby for a few. So why build vehicles that meet your personal criteria? There’s no need whatsoever. If you want a specialty vehicle, buy one. I need no lectures about frames and stick axles from the old guard trying to force a position on the mainstream. It’s all about as useful as wanting wagons and moaning about the lack of them.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            There is one remaining vehicle with a frame and two stick axles: the Wrangler.* And it’s enough to meet the demand for that technology. If the typical pickup buyer wanted a solid front axle, the OEMs would sell one. (And if the typical SUV buyer wanted a solid rear axle more than a bigger cargo hold/third seat, the OEMs would have kept those around too.)

            *Well, two, if you count the Gladiator as a separate thing.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            “ One of these days the rest of us might like to hear a rant that doesn’t include the continual line of blinkered nonsense you espouse”

            I’m pointing out well established facts and your lecturing me that it’s total nonsense without any evidence to the contrary.

            Regardless of what people buy off-road vehicles for, its very disingenuous to market a vehicle as an off-road vehicle without any of the capabilities assumed for off-roading but rather selling an image.

            For many an off-road capable vehicle is not a hobby but a mean to get through daily life.

            Rather than making condescending lectures to car enthusiasts on a vehicle centric website you could develop enthusiasm for your own preferred means of transportation.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Only if you count heavy-duty trucks, which I wasn’t.

      • 0 avatar

        To be fair they tried. Off road capable SUV buyers is a small group. The remote areas of New England that are stil serviced only by dirt roads feature many full size pickups but also plenty of AWD cuv’s.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        “The only new product they have to choose from today to get to their homes or businesses are pickups, 4Runners, and the Wrangler.”

        I’d be willing to bet that my unibody Grand Cherokee Trailhawk with fully independent suspension can get to any home that a 4Runner can get to. 100% guaranteed, every day of the week. But the ironic thing here is that 99% of every 4Runner, Grand Cherokee, and full-size trucks never see more than an occasional dirt road at best. Your argument is really pointless because nobody really cares about off-road ability. They only care about the idea of having that vehicle that can go anywhere at any time. It’s an image thing, just like Hummer owners.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “It’s an image thing”

          Doesn’t the “image” people want have to be backed up by something though?

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            Not really. If it mattered, it wouldn’t be about image, it would be about functionality. Think about the vehicles most people buy today.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          “ I’d be willing to bet that my unibody Grand Cherokee Trailhawk with fully independent suspension can get to any home that a 4Runner can get to.”

          Your sounding very overconfident on that, not even mentioning the 4Runner TRD Pro that would run circles around you guaranteed, a regular SR5 4×4 4Runner would easily take your Cherokee. Doesn’t have to worry about the ridiculously low body nor the horrible overhangs the Cherokee inexplicably has.

          I see 4Runner running up Carova, NC everytime I’ve been there, I’ve never seen a crossover like yours make it over a mile down the beach before getting horribly stuck.

          You may be worried about image but you should be more worried about backing it up.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            I am confident because I’ve owned both. You obviously know nothing about Jeeps. Why? Well, you’d know that a Trailhawk Grand Cherokee has more ground clearance than a 4Runner. Air suspension is a wonderful thing. Educate yourself and then maybe we can debate further. Until then, don’t talk nonsense…it’s not a good look for you.

    • 0 avatar
      The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

      Ya know they built XJ Cherokees for like 25 years, right?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “The United States has some pretty strict ideas involving body-on-frame construction”

      Which Japanese-engineered offroad vehicles use unibody construction? Everything from the big-hoss Land Cruiser to the pocket-sized Jimny is BOF (the Suzuki also uses F/R solid axles, most others are at least SRA).

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Everyone said the same thing about solid axles when they started getting replaced by IFS. Nobody off-roads these things, so it really doesn’t matter. I’m part of the 1% who actually does off-road. And guess what? I’ve owned both 4Runners and Grand Cherokees and the Grand Cherokees have done just as well or better and have held up just as well as my BOF 4Runners, even long term. BOF is dying and nobody really cares because it just doesn’t matter to the 99% of buyers in this market. Like I said, I’m part of that 1% and even I don’t care.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Nobody off-roads these things, so it really doesn’t matter.”
        “nobody really cares because it just doesn’t matter to the 99% of buyers in this market.”

        My spectrum disorder is too strong to understand why people buy off-road SUVs and then not only never take them off-road but then also don’t even care if it actually has any capability beyond a Legacy.

        • 0 avatar
          White Shadow

          I don’t know because that’s not me. Ask one of the thousands of bro-truck owners who run lifts, big tires, but never leave the pavement. It’s more common than not. To each their own.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        That’s ridiculous the top two best selling vehicles in America are BOF, the only reason to go for unibody construction is for cheapness and lightness on a track.

        The market has spoken, if you want to off-road your going to buy BOF, clearly the unibody shtick didn’t work with the XJ so unless you want to pretend a minivan with some flashy colors and ridiculous trim packages suddenly make them “off-road ready” then there are no off-road capable CUVs available any longer.

        • 0 avatar
          HotPotato

          AFAIK the C in CUV stands for crossover, which is by definition a unibody utility vehicle: the form of an SUV, the construction technique of a passenger car. So to complain that are no off-road-ready CUVs “any longer,” when your definition of off-road-ready requires the condition “uses a ladder frame,” makes no sense.

          You know what else makes no sense? The conviction that vehicles on ladder frames are inherently more durable. Consider buses. Unibody city and highway coaches last millions of miles and decade after decade. Body-on-frame school buses are scrapped within a decade, and attempts to use them in heavy service like a city bus have come to tears.

          Maybe it’s all different when the pavement goes away, of course. Used school buses do seem to go to parts of the world where roads are more like tracks or paths. Then again, maybe that’s because they’re cheap, simple, and easy for anyone to repair, since they’re literally not far removed from a covered wagon in chassis and suspension sophistication.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            Most school busses end up getting a second life on farms having the roof cut off and hauling seedlings to the fields. Cheap and durable farm vehicles. I can’t recall seeing any city bus last more than 15-20 years, or ever get repurposed like that on the other hand.

        • 0 avatar
          White Shadow

          Please, you really need to educate yourself. The Grand Cherokee is unibody and it completed the Rubicon 100% stock, right down to the OEM Kevlar reinforced tires that come on it. Yes, without any damage. Land Rover is unibody and is also excellent off-road. How are those Hummers you so admire? LOLOL

        • 0 avatar
          White Shadow

          LOLOL….tell that to Land Rover.

  • avatar
    Zipster

    I have been in Japan for the last several days. I have yet to see a pickup, although there are some SUVs. Almost all of of the newest vehicles are hybrids. Clearly the Japanese have other priorities then asserting themselves through vehicle ownership.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Jeeps are unique and popular world wide, but I can’t understand why no one has built a real competitor to the Wrangler. You’d think everyone would be gunning for it, but Jeep literally owns the segment

  • avatar
    Noble713

    Jeep Wranglers are one of the “cult following” vehicles you see on the roads here, like low-rider Impalas and Cadillacs. Wranglers are popular with the small community of off-roaders, and the rare Japanese who wanna be quirky and buck the trend of conformity.

    The Suzuki Jimny is the popular JDM faux-Jeep offering. Compared to a Jimny, a Wrangler comes across as an oversized “conspicuous consumption” purchasing decision, which somehow still fits the American stereotype even if the vehicle itself isn’t a particularly egregious example of gas-guzzling inefficiency.

    The sales push does help explain why I’ve been seeing a growing number of new-looking 4-door Wranglers though.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    I am confident because I’ve owned both. You obviously know nothing about Jeeps. Why? Well, you’d know that a Trailhawk Grand Cherokee has more ground clearance than a 4Runner. Air suspension is a wonderful thing. Educate yourself and then maybe we can debate further. Until then, don’t talk nonsense…it’s not a good look for you.

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