Keeping Jeep's personality
Analysts caution that Chrysler and Fiat need to be careful not to stray too far from the qualities -- including rugged styling and a go-anywhere reputation -- that have been part of Jeep's personality from the beginning.
"Jeep is one of the brands in Marchionne's treasure chest that must be protected, nurtured and grown," contends Jane Nakagawa, a former automotive product planner and now senior vice president of strategic planning for consultant interTrend Communications. "There's a lot more opportunity with authentic, yet differentiated product extensions."
While Wrangler and Grand Cherokee remain the best-selling Jeeps, it is through such new models as the Italian-built mini-crossover that Fiat and Chrysler hope to expand the brand's presence outside North America.
With a rich history, a diverse owner base and a name that is recognized around the world, Jeep is "the brand without borders," added Rebecca Lindland, director of research for IHS Automotive.
"Jeep is one of the few American brands with virtually no baggage," said Lindland. "It is a charismatic brand with global appeal."
Part of that appeal dates to World War II, when the first open-top utility vehicles were developed and built for the U.S. military and quickly were dubbed "Jeeps." Willys, which continued civilian production after the war, trademarked the Jeep brand name in 1950.
Since then, Jeeps have been built in at least 20 countries on six continents, by a variety of manufacturers and licensees, including Renault, Daimler, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Kia Motors Corp. and Mahindra and Mahindra. And that does not count several smaller U.S. automakers -- such as AMC, Willys and Kaiser Motors -- that have long since fallen by the wayside.
Marchionne's evolving global strategy for Jeep has its unlikely antecedents in tiny American Motors, whose corporate parent, French automaker Renault, sold it to Chrysler in 1987, after deciding it could not afford to support a global marketing effort to promote Jeep.
Under Chrysler, Jeep production has been centered mainly in the United States, with exports shipped to all corners of the globe.
"This is not new territory -- Renault and AMC planned to take Jeep global in the mid-1980s," according to Bill Chapin, a former executive who headed international marketing for the Jeep brand after AMC formed the Beijing Jeep joint venture in China.
The concept of Jeep as a global brand "is still as valid today as it was then," added Chapin, who is now president of the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Mich. "Hopefully, Fiat has the wherewithal to pull it off -- to expand the product range and the reach, and still maintain the 'Jeep-ness.'"