RICK KRANZ

Jeep proves SUV success possible despite rising fuel costs

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News

Jeep’s redesigned 2011 Grand Cherokee is on a roll.

Despite high gasoline prices and three different caretakers during Grand Cherokee’s development, sales are up 86 percent for the January through April period, to 35,917 SUVs.

Chrysler listened to owners and targeted complaints. Owners of the previous generation Grand Cherokee criticized the rear-seat legroom, the lack of interior refinement, fuel economy and ride.

Despite control by the Germans, a U.S.-based private equity firm, and now the Italians, Chrysler managed to create two SUVs -- the Grand Cherokee and its platform-mate Dodge Durango -- that have earned praise from the motor press, accolades that translated into respectable sales.

Let’s face it, things easily could have really been mucked up when the equity gang came to town.

Ride, handling, NVH, interior materials -- overall refinement -- are leaps and bounds above the previous generation Grand Cherokee and Durango. I’ve driven both vehicles.

Additionally, the automaker continued development of a new V-6, an engine that gets some of the credit for the fuel economy boost.

The lesson that’s learned here is if you listen to the customer and then exceed expectations, the emotional tug to own an SUV can be way, way stronger than $4 per gallon gasoline.

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