DETROIT — Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said some new Jeep Renegade subcompact crossovers are being withheld from dealers because of software problems.
Marchionne said the Renegade’s quality issues are similar to those that plagued the 2013 debut of the Jeep Cherokee. He spoke late Tuesday after receiving an industry leader of the year award from the SAE Foundation.
The Cherokee’s 2013 launch was delayed several months because of the software controlling its nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive system. The Renegade has an identical nine-speed automatic but a different all-wheel-drive system than the Cherokee.
A source at FCA clarified Thursday that the software causing the problem did not involve the Renegade's transmission. The source would not identify the nature of the software issue.
“I’m having a very bad engineering day,” Marchionne said. “It’s a combination of attributes of that vehicle that is making my life horrible.”
The Renegade went on sale in mid-March. In April, Jeep sold 4,214 Renegades, more than the more-established Jeep Compass.
He said the software issues are being addressed, and predicted that any Renegades being held would be released by mid-June at the latest.
Wrangler and aluminum
In addition, Marchionne said the company had changed its plans for the next-generation Jeep Wrangler, which previously was planned to have an all-aluminum body. The CEO said Wrangler would now have aluminum components -- such as perhaps a weight-saving aluminum hood and tailgate, as well as aluminum doors -- but not an aluminum body.
“There will be a large portion of that vehicle that will be aluminum. It will not be all aluminum,” Marchionne said. “We've run the numbers and we've simulated mileage and the impact. Because of the difference in cost -- not just of the material but the actual assembly process -- I think we can do almost as well without doing it all-aluminum. I think we can get very close.”
An aluminum body would have required a complete refitting of the existing Wrangler plant, in Toledo, Ohio. If components made of aluminum are hung on a steel body, no such extensive factory revamp would be necessary.
In addition, the CEO said the next-generation Grand Cherokee, which had been due in 2017, may be delayed to allow it to be jointly developed with a higher-end Grand Wagoneer. The two vehicles would share a platform.
Speaking of the Wagoneer, which had been scheduled to go on sale in 2018, Marchionne said “development needs to coincide with a complete relook at the Grand Cherokee architecture, and effectively jointly develop them. And if there is a delay, it’s due to the joining of these two programs into something that makes sense. It needs to happen.”
Marchionne said the Wagoneer, which would be a luxury three-row version, would compete with Range Rovers and other large luxury SUVs at prices well above the most-expensive current Grand Cherokee.
Said Marchionne: “I think we need to go there with the next version.”
Speaking to reporters, Marchionne also said:
-- FCA will fully cooperate with information requests and participate in a July 2 hearing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding its response rate for 20 recall campaigns.
“We have done and continue to do a phenomenal amount of work to ensure that we make our cars as safe as we can and that we respond to any recall initiative in an efficient fashion,” Marchionne said. “The real issue is, for organizations like ours and I’m sure for others, the process of adjustment to this new regulatory environment is going to be painful. We’re not used to this and I think that we need to just step up… and move it on."
-- A planned all-wheel-drive version of the next-generation Chrysler Town & Country minivan will either lose its foldable Stow 'n Go seating or use an independent electric motor to power the back wheels.
“You have two choices: you either trade the Stow 'n Go or you go with electric motors in the back. It’s not that complicated. We’re exploring both,” Marchionne said. The next FCA minivan is due to be revealed at the Detroit auto show in January.
-- FCA’s electrification efforts will continue to expand beyond a planned plug-in electric hybrid version of the upcoming Town & Country.
“I think electrification is coming -- whether you like it or not -- in some fashion,” Marchionne said. He said an electric minivan would be “most beneficial” to FCA’s fuel-economy fleet ratings, but said the automaker continues to explore hybrid options for other vehicles, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Said Marchionne: “We will continue to optimize our involvement in electrification by going through with the one that gives you the biggest bang for the buck.”