FCA shifts course, will make Jeep Grand Wagoneer body-on-frame

A poster photographed at a Jeep dealer meeting last summer indicated that the upcoming Grand Wagoneer, shown, will be taller and wider than the current Grand Cherokee with a front fascia that emulates that of the Grand Cherokee.

DETROIT -- Fiat Chrysler has dramatically altered its product course and will now bring its new Jeep Grand Wagoneer back to life as a body-on-frame SUV, after nearly two years of claiming that it would be unibody like almost all other luxury nameplates.

In comments to reporters at the Detroit auto show, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed Monday that the company now plans to build both a Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer as body-on-frame vehicles. The new SUVs will be built at a retooled Warren Truck Assembly plant in suburban Detroit, which now builds the current-generation Ram 1500.

The abrupt switch in product plans is likely to mean that the automaker’s dream of a $140,000 Grand Wagoneer to compete against the Range Rover, as laid out in November by Jeep brand boss Mike Manley, won’t happen.

Instead, a much less expensive luxury Jeep is likely aimed at General Motors’ profitable Chevy Tahoe family of body-on-frame SUVs. Marchionne has previously said that he coveted the profits GM generates from its large SUVs.

The switch is likely good news for FCA dealers, who faced the prospect of having a very expensive vehicle in their inventory without a natural customer base in that price range.

Right now, the highest-priced Jeep -- the unibody 2017 Grand Cherokee SRT -- starts at $67,890, including shipping. A body-on-frame three-row Grand Wagoneer is more likely to stay closer to the brand’s initial price estimates of $100,000 and sell in higher volumes, at least in the U.S.

Jeep’s leadership has been pushing for a luxury line above the Grand Cherokee, and included plans for it in its 2014 five-year business plan. As recently as June, Manley said that “the Wagoneer name represents historically the pinnacle of premium for the Jeep world. But in the same way as you may have an Overland and a Summit, you have different trim levels, so you could imagine the use of Wagoneer to denote a really premium vehicle, and Grand Wagoneer takes it to the very next level. So if you were to use that as your naming strategy, that’s exactly how I would use the trims.”

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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