DETROIT -- Jeep has been on a three-year run of year-over-year sales gains, but extending that streak in 2013 will depend on the success of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, brand boss Mike Manley says.
Speaking Wednesday at Chrysler Group's headquarters, Manley said he is confident Jeep can top its record 2012 global sales of 701,626. But doing so will require the mid-sized Cherokee to find quick success with consumers.
"I'm still confident pushing for Jeep to continue its three-year trend of year-over-year gains despite a heavy model changeover," Manley said. "I think we need to get some traction with Cherokee in the third quarter or fourth quarter" to top the mark.
Last year in the United States, Jeep was Chrysler Group's second-best selling brand with sales of 474,131 units. Dodge was first with sales of 524,989 units.
Production of the 2014 Cherokee -- which will be officially unveiled next week at the New York auto show despite leaked photos appearing online last month -- is scheduled to begin May 23, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said this year. But internal sources at Chrysler say the production schedule has been delayed by at least two weeks.
A Chrysler spokeswoman said the May 23 date for the start of production remains.
In the United States, Jeep sales have declined for five consecutive months, reflecting the discontinuation of Liberty output in August 2012.
Manley said Jeep's global sales are likely to be flat or decline in the first half of the year because of modifications made this year to the brand's lineup. The Grand Cherokee, Compass and Patriot all received new transmissions for the 2014 model year, and the Cherokee is an all-new model and the first Jeep to be built on a Fiat platform.
But he predicted the brand's overall sales would recover in the second half of the year if sales of the new mid-sized crossover take off.
Traction for Cherokee
"Cherokee won't be in the market in volume until really the third quarter, so you're going to see a hangover for first quarter and second quarter for sure," Manley said. "As Cherokee gains traction in the marketplace -- which I think will be around the fourth quarter -- obviously that's going to change."
Jeep has struggled to maintain sufficient supplies of its two top-selling SUVs, the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, for more than a year. Chrysler added a third production shift at its Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit to increase Grand Cherokee supplies, and recently said it would add 200 jobs in Toledo to incrementally boost Wrangler output.
But Manley said there is only so much an automaker can do to make more vehicles before it has to spend money to add capacity.
"At some stage you get to a point where you have to make significant investment to [add] capacity," Manley said, "and when we get to that point, we'll be able to make that announcement."