Chrysler CEO Confirms Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Other ProductBy Bill Visnic January 14, 2011
Although the now-discontinued Jeep Commander won't be fondly remembered in the brand's annals, CEO Sergio Marchionne said that won't stop Chrysler Group LLC from taking another run at a Jeep with three rows of seats, this time reviving the Grand Wagoneer nameplate for a new and better mega-upscale Jeep coming in the 2013 timeframe.
Declaring the ungainly and unloved Commander "unfit for human consumption," Marchionne divulged the plan for a Grand Wagoneer during a roundtable with reporters.
He asserted that when nearly all Chrysler dealers soon complete the conversion to handling all four of the company's brands, there is no need for any Chrysler division but Jeep to sell true SUVs - eliminating, he insisted, the conflict competitors often have when decreeing more than one brand sell what is essentially the same vehicle.
That's currently the case with Chrysler's all-new 2011 Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, which share the same unibody structure and major driveline pieces. The redesigned Grand Cherokee has enjoyed a substantial renaissance - it quickly has become the third best-selling domestic SUV or crossover, trailing only Chevrolet's Equinox and Ford's Escape, according to analysts at Edmunds.com - while the Durango, just now coming to market, has won early critical acclaim for its more-refined driving manners and vastly improved interior materials and design.
Nonetheless, Marchionne apparently is not all that thrilled with the product-development and marketing strategies - prior to Fiat S.p.A's management takeover of Chrysler - that led to the Durango and Grand Cherokee being derived from a common architecture."If I had been here," Marchionne said, "the Durango would have been a Grand Wagoneer - which we will bring back to the marketplace." He later said the timing for a new-generation Grand Wagoneer would be sometime around the 2013 timeframe.
Doubling Down On Brand
All automakers talk about being true to their brands. Many say it exhaustively, but few seem to have the courage - on many strategic and operational levels - to follow through with their convictions. Marchionne appears intent on making it stick for Chrysler, using Jeep and Dodge as examples and citing the necessity for strictly defining brands in Chrysler's integrated showrooms, 90 percent of which will be selling all four brands by the end of this year.
"Why would any brand (in the new Chrysler showrooms) but Jeep have an SUV?" he asks rhetorically. "Jeep needs to define the SUV market market and it needs to own it."
Marchionne also insisted there are distinctions between SUVs and crossovers that mean Jeep won't be the sole purveyor of anything that carries the SUV or CUV descriptor. Family-oriented crossovers such as the Journey are appropriate for Dodge, he said.
But his strictures for Jeep - the brand many industry analysts still believe has the most value to the reconstituted Chrysler - remain particularly rigid.
"Every car has to be able to offer a Trail-Rated version," Marchionne said, even as he admits most everyday buyers won't need the optional extra-beefy components required. The Trail-Rated ability, he believes, is the very essence of the rugged heritage that provides so much of the brand's cache. "I can't have a Mickey Mouse Jeep," he said.
Meanwhile, "The true all-encompassing American brand is Dodge," Marchionne said, although he did confirm the company is likely to consolidate that most American of products, the minivan, one nameplate. That decision means either the Dodge Grand Caravan or the Chrysler Town & Country would be the company's single minivan nameplate moving forward - and despite his assertion about Dodge's all-American image, Marchionne won't say Dodge couldn't end up the loser in the minivan consolidation, as both the Grand Caravan and Chrysler's Town & Country currently sell in vexingly similar volumes.
Marchionne also confirmed Chrysler will enter the rapidly-forming mini people-mover segment, to do battle with Ford Motor Co.'s upcoming C-Max and the just-unveiled Prius V, with a model slotted below the current fullsize minivans.
Although he confirmed the 3-liter Fiat turbodiesel V6 "is installed" to make the new Grand Cherokee a viable competitor in Europe, Marchionne is not entirely upbeat about the potential for U.S. sales, although Canada remains a possible market, too, for the diesel-engined Grand Cherokee.
He called the chances for a U.S. variant of the diesel Grand Cherokee "doubtful," saying that although diesels have been "incorrectly maligned" in America, it currently is prohibitively expensive to fit the expensive exhaust aftertreatment systems required for diesel-powered vehicles to be emissions-compliant in all states. Heavier vehicles such as the Grand Cherokee typically need extra-cost urea-injection systems such as those used by Mercedes-Benz, BMW and domestic automakers' medium-duty pickups.
Marchionne didn't completely kill the idea of using diesels, though, saying, "If we can do it, we will. It's all about economics.
Aficionados of old-school American muscle will be heartened to know the storied Hemi V8 remains in the company's future plans. Marchionne said Chrysler engineers "have not abandoned" the once-prominent Hemi engine lineup, despite the company downplaying its presence in recent years.
Photos by AutoObserver and Chrysler
1 - Sergio Marchionne talked with reporters at the Detroit auto show. (Photo by AutoObserver's Bill Visnic)
2 - The 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a roaring success. (Photo by Chrysler)
3 - The Jeep Commander is gone but Chrysler is re-considering a 3-row seating Jeep. (Photo by Chrysler.