LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE

2 million extra doors was the best call Daimler made during 'marriage of equals'

Automotive News | May 17, 2013 - 12:35 pm EST

Larry P. Vellequette covers Chrysler for Automotive News.
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It's easy to criticize the way Daimler AG ran and ultimately left Chrysler during the disastrous "marriage of equals" era. I know because I've done it on a regular basis.

But even the worst marriages can produce spectacular kids -- or in this case, products. And today, the 1 millionth copy of one of the best results of Chrysler's former bad marriage rolled down an assembly line in Toledo.

The four-door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited -- or 'JK' if you speak the language of Chrysler body codes -- hit the production milestone in under seven years.

And not just any seven years, mind you, but perhaps the worst seven-year period in recent memory.

A popular off-roading magazine described the Daimler-era call to add two extra doors to the venerable Wrangler "one of the smartest product moves any automotive company has ever made."

I think anyone who's tried to keep an adequate supply of Wrangler Unlimiteds on their lot would be hard-pressed to disagree.
 
The four-door Wrangler was really a bet that the tradition-bound Jeep community would embrace a bigger, heavier version of their beloved two-door Wrangler and use it as a daily driver.
 
In its first few years on the market, the bigger JK suffered from an inadequate powertrain, a malady that was solved with the addition of the powerful Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 engine in 2011 for the 2012 model year. New interior refinements -- an admittedly loose term when discussing the Wrangler -- helped also.
 
Early on, only about a third of the Wranglers that rolled down Chrysler's body-on-frame assembly line in Toledo were of the four-door variety. Now that 2-1 ratio is reversed, and it's not because there are fewer two-doors produced.

The Wrangler JK is also highly profitable, both for Chrysler and for dealers. Incentives on the vehicle are nearly nonexistent. Expensive special editions, often little more than sticker packages, regularly sell out in weeks, if not days.

And when Chrysler executives are asked to identify their greatest challenge, their answer invariably is "to figure out a way to make more Wranglers." U.S. sales of the Wrangler are up 8 percent this year at 45,291.

Someday soon, Chrysler executives will crack that production constraint and make room for things such as a diesel Wrangler and a Wrangler pickup, driving even more consumers to consider a Wrangler.

When that day comes -- as on this day -- Chrysler executives ought to tip their hats to their Daimler-era predecessors who saw the money in those 2 million extra doors.

A popular off-roading magazine calls the Daimler-era call to add two extra doors to the venerable Wrangler "the best automotive industry decision of the last decade."

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