TOKYO -- Jeep has made history by becoming the first U.S. brand to crack the top 10 in this country’s Car of the Year Award.
The honor came down this week for the Jeep Cherokee, which was tapped as one of the 10 Best Cars for 2014-15. It was a first for any American nameplate.
The redesigned Cherokee went on sale here in May and is piloting Jeep to its fifth straight year of sales increases in a market notorious for its fickle and patriotic consumers.
Yet recent results of Japan’s most prestigious auto honor suggest the country is opening a bit to foreign wheels. European nameplates have made the 10 Best list before. But one took top honors only last year, for the first time since the contest began in 1980-1981.
That car was the Volkswagen Golf.
This year, the Mercedes-Benz C class nearly took the prize, according to one judge. But there can be only one winner, and the redesigned Mazda2 compact just edged the German luxury sedan.
By convention, whenever a foreign car doesn’t win, the judging committee creates a special import Car of the Year Award. This year, it went to the runner-up C class.
Other foreign cars making the 10 Best this year were the Peugeot 308 and the BMW i3.
From April to September, the first half of Japan’s fiscal year, Jeep sales in Japan climbed 33 percent to 3,188 vehicles. While the volume is small by international standards, Jeep’s results beat the 2,259 vehicles sold by Ford, the 656 by Chrysler and the 641 by Chevrolet.
Globally, Jeep sales surged 41 percent during the first nine months of the year to 747,082 vehicles. The U.S. accounted for the lion’s share of those gains. Nine-month sales in the U.S. rose 45 percent to 516,387 vehicles.