By killing the Cherokee nameplate and replacing it with Liberty, the Chrysler group expects to revive Jeep's competitive edge among lower-priced mid-sized sport-utilities.
But some Jeep dealers are unhappy about eliminating the Cherokee.
They say Chrysler could have transferred the 18-year-old name to the Liberty because an extension on Cherokee production was pulled back.
Still, the vehicle could be produced for up to six months past the 2002 Liberty launch in May, said Tom Marinelli, vice president of Chrysler-Jeep's global brand center.
'There was the expectation that we would not continue Cherokee, but why don't we keep the name?' Marinelli said. 'It made sense to make a clean break and not confuse the market by continuing Cherokee for a short time and then announcing a brand new vehicle.'
The Cherokee name is being discontinued only in the United States. Elsewhere, the new vehicle still will be called the Jeep Cherokee.
Jerry Bowman, chairman of the Chrysler-Jeep national dealer council, is disappointed that the Cherokee name is being dropped.
'We had a great deal of equity in the Cherokee name,' he said. 'We're losing something we had a long time that's synonymous with Jeep.'
One reason for the change, Marinelli said, is people have been confused about the difference between the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, which will continue to be produced.
Another reason for the change: 'All the research we did said it (the Liberty) would appeal to a much wider group of people than Cherokee,' Marinelli said.
The Liberty will appeal to a younger buyer, he said. The average age of a Cherokee buyer is 41, but that is expected to decrease to 35 for the Liberty. Also, the Liberty should draw more female buyers than the Cherokee, Marinelli said.
Liberty was the only name consumers rated higher than Cherokee in Jeep's research on likability, Marinelli said.
Continued marketing of the Jeep brand will repair any lost equity in the Cherokee, said Doug Scott, president of West Coast operations for automotive market research tracker Allison-Fisher International.
Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche said in January the Liberty will be priced closer to the Grand Cherokee, which starts at about $30,000.