Jeep built in Italy will still appeal to U.S. buyers, brand boss says

The Jeep Renegade, pictured in Geneva, will be built in a Fiat plant in Melfi, Italy.

GENEVA -- Building the Jeep Renegade in Italy will not deter fans of the iconic American brand from buying the model, Jeep brand head Mike Manley said.

The Renegade, the brand's new entry model, will be the first Jeep built exclusively outside of the United States.

Manley said he has heard “nothing so far” from Jeep aficionados complaining that the most iconic of U.S. vehicles is being built in Italy. Jeep customers are concerned mainly about off-road performance, he said.

“We needed to be able to trail-rate it,” Manley said in an interview this week at the Geneva auto show. “So the launch of the [trail rated] Trailhawk is very important,” he said.

The Renegade, which was unveiled on Tuesday in Geneva, shares a platform with the upcoming Fiat 500X. Both models will be built in a Fiat plant in Melfi, Italy. The Renegade will also be produced in Brazil from the first half of 2015, said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne.

The Renegade is scheduled to go on sale in Europe by year end and in the United States in early 2015.

Manley declined to release sales targets. Supplier sources have told Automotive News Europe that Fiat and Jeep plan annual production of up to 280,000 units of the two models. Jeep's volume will be about 150,000, while Fiat's version will account for 130,000 units.

Jeep will announce U.S. pricing in the fourth quarter, Manley said, and during the second quarter in Europe.

The Jeep’s American DNA is also evident in the Renegade's design cues, which are dyed-in-the-wool Stars and Stripes.

“The Renegade’s footprint is similar to one of the CJs,” Manley said, referring to the civilian versions of the military vehicles which helped bring the Allied forces to victory in World War II. “It’s much more Wrangler. We’re very pleased, and I think it will work well in the United States.”

The Renegade is joining the Jeep brand as it targets selling 1 million vehicles worldwide annually, up 37 percent from a record 731,565 last year.

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