Jeep weathers the storm from nature -- and critics

Industry's hottest brand undaunted by winter, Cherokee reviews

Consumer Reports called the Jeep Cherokee "half-baked" in its review. However, the SUV has posted strong U.S. sales during an especially cold and snowy winter.
Jeep climb
Jeep hit an all-time single-month market share high in January, and now aims to beat its full-year record of 3.4% in 1996.
20144.1% (Jan. only)

Forget that little bomb that Consumer Reports dropped on the Cherokee this week. These are heady days for Jeep.

Chrysler's off-road brand has plowed through winter with ease, achieving an all-time record 4.1 percent U.S. market share in January -- and not just on the strength of the redesigned Cherokee.

Indeed, Jeep is a juggernaut. In cold weather, it has been the industry's hottest brand.

Analysts are impressed with how Jeep's other models continued to climb even as Cherokees flew off frozen lots last month.

"When an all-new model has a strong launch, almost inevitably it cannibalizes sales from adjacent models from the same brand," said IHS analyst Tom Libby. "But in January, all the Jeep models adjacent to the Cherokee were up."

Jeep sales were up 38 percent in January, with all four of its other nameplates -- the Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, Patriot and Compass -- up between 6 and 31 percent. The Wrangler set monthly U.S. sales records in December and January.

The Cherokee picked up more segment share than any of its competitors in January, including the hot-selling Toyota RAV4, while traditional segment leaders such as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Chevy Equinox lost share.

But Consumer Reports this week gave the Cherokee a body slam, declaring that "despite a few high points," it was "half-baked" and wouldn't receive a recommendation.

Handling was an issue for the magazine's testing staff, which said that neither the Latitude version, with a 2.4-liter inline-four, nor the Limited with a 3.2-liter V-6 was very agile, and the ride was choppy. The nine-speed automatic transmission also drew ire from the magazine, which described it as "unrefined" and "unresponsive."

Meanwhile, several newspapers came out with Cherokee reviews in early February, reporting on weeks of test-driving on rough terrain and in snowy conditions.

The New York Times took issue with the Cherokee's powertrain, saying it "seemed a bit slow to react to the accelerator," when its nine-speed automatic downshifts, but overall said the Trailhawk version "is a nice, competent and comfortable entry that can also romp with real 4-by-4s."

The Los Angeles Times liked the SUV's polarizing looks, but didn't like its pinched rear cargo area, saying "the lack of hauling space is a conspicuous mark against an otherwise worthy vehicle with an eye-catching design."

Whatever reviewers say, Jeep is hot.

"Jeep is getting a boost from the bad weather," said analyst Karl Bauer. "If I wasn't already thinking Jeep before the last three weeks of weather I'd be seriously considering them now."

The winter storms are "a nice, subtle reminder for a lot of America that their life is easier if they have a Jeep," said Jeep marketing director Jim Morrison.

Dealers say the Cherokee's strong U.S. sales in November, December and January are continuing this month, thanks in part to blustery weather that continues to plague much of the nation.

Morrison said Chrysler's data shows that a large number of Cherokee buyers are moving into the SUV from imported cars and crossovers.

"We're continuing to grow," he said. "We're not recycling our customers."

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