In China, those U.S. entrants are still perceived mostly as luxury toys. And that is largely the positioning Haggstrom envisions for the Gladiator in Japan — a unique sporty status symbol for those who fancy an active, outdoorsy lifestyle and relish standing out in a crowd.
He thinks Jeep can sell several hundred Gladiators a year in Japan. Those are meager numbers compared with U.S. volumes, but the Gladiator could burnish the brand and push overall volume toward Jeep's sales goal.
"For us, it's a brand statement," Haggstrom said of the Gladiator at a Jeep snow drive event this month on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. "It's the 'wow!' of the 'wow!' "
Jeep's Japan boss imagines Japanese customers throwing their ski or surfing equipment in the back, or weekend warriors hauling firewood to their cabin in the mountains.
Haggstrom asked headquarters back in 2019 to send the Gladiator to Japan.
"I think they were surprised when we came with the request," he said. But there was hardly any blowback from executives in Auburn Hills, Mich.
"We figured, why not?"
Jeep expects the Gladiator to springboard off the soaring popularity of the Wrangler. Sales of the iconic Wrangler have risen for 11 straight years, from just 516 in 2009 to 5,757 in 2020. The nameplate vaulted Jeep to total brand sales of 13,588 in 2020, despite the pandemic.
Japan is now Jeep's No. 6 market worldwide. But the brand must invest to keep it that way. And that meant prepping the Gladiator for battle in one of the world's most demanding consumer cultures.
"We wanted it engineered for us," Haggstrom said.
Work included ensuring a right-hand-drive version for Japan. Engineers also had to tweak the instrument cluster, the lighting and the navigation. Even the key fob uses a different wireless frequency in this country.
"These sound like trivial things, but there are a ton of them," Haggstrom said of the tweaks for Japan.