Jeep’s flagship Grand Wagoneer is firming as a likely entrant for Jeep in Australia as part of a push to make the SUV-only brand a top 10 seller.
It’s understood the flagship seven-seater could crack $100,000 as the pinnacle of the Jeep lineup to take on Land Cruiser. With the arrival of an all-new Grand Cherokee in 2017 there is expected to be the option of a seven-seat model, helping Jeep compete against the likes of the Toyota Prado and ute based seven-seaters, including the Isuzu MU-X, Holden Colorado 7, Mitsubishi Challenger and the upcoming Ford Everest.
Jeep is also working on a top secret program to build a longer wheelbase, seven-seat version of the KL Cherokee, giving the brand a broader spread and making it more appealing to families.
The American 4x4 maker is also close to deciding on a Wrangler ute as part of the next generation model due in 2017. Speaking at the Detroit Motor Show, Jeep president and CEO Mike Manley said the growth in Jeep market share locally (the brand grew 37 per cent in 2014 and was the 12th best selling brand) was raising its voice in global product planning meetings.
“We have performed well in the Australian market,” Manley said. “That’s helped all right-hand drive markets… that has a big impact on any future investment plan.”
Manley hinted it could be enough to tip a multi-million dollar investment to ensure the Grand Wagoneer is engineered for right-hand drive markets such as Australia, South Africa and the UK.
“We’re at the stage where we have to make the final decision in terms of right- and left-hand drive,” he said, adding that the Wagoneer is crucial for the overall image of the Jeep brand. “The vehicle at the top of the range, in the same way as Wrangler is an icon… is very important in terms of how it establishes your brand.”
One of the big advantages of the Grand Wagoneer is its size (it’s predominantly made for the US market), something that could see it tread on the toes of the Toyota Land Cruiser 200-Series, a car that is almost unrivalled in its segment.
But Manley suggests there will be other options for seven-seaters moving forward.
“Certainly it’s an option for us to look at a three-row vehicle outside Grand Wagoneer,” he said. “There’s no reason why it wouldn’t be available for Australia.”
But it’s the much talked about Wrangler ute that is being keenly watched by many across the globe.
If it were to arrive when the new Wrangler is produced in 2017 it would finally give Jeep an entrant in the 4x4 ute segment that accounts for almost one in eight new vehicles sales.
“We’re well into the program for Wrangler renewal. That’s a longer cycle program because of what the vehicle is,” Manley said.
4X4 Australia understands the next generation Wrangler will be lighter thanks to the adoption of more advanced materials, something that could push the price up.
“As part of that… the decision will or will not be made in terms of do we have a pick-up or don’t we have a pick-up. From my perspective it fits into the portfolio perfectly.” He referenced Dodge as one hurdle, given the strength of Ram in the US market, but he hinted that wouldn’t be a show stopper for a Wrangler ute.
“I don’t have any pick-ups that I can sell in your market. The export markets we have for Ram are limited… if I did a Wrangler pick-up then every international market would take it – Australia, South Africa [etc].” Manley said Jeep will continue to deliver extreme off-road vehicles, with the Wrangler at the top of the ability.
Whereas many rue the arrival of electronics and technology as reducing off-road ability or introducing more opportunities for problems, Manley said it is reducing compromises and increasing ability.
“[We’ve got] the nine-speed transmission which helps crawl ratio [and] we’ve got disconnecting rear axles which help fuel economy. We continue to make advancements in the four-wheel drive systems, whether it’s using Select Terrain or, you know, some drivers like to do it themselves.
“We’ve used technology effectively in terms of hill ascent and hill descent.
“You have to put more technology into vehicles… but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t still produce a vehicle that people can work on or change.”
He says Wrangler will continue to be the raw, retro-styled extreme off-roader it has always been.
“One of the big reasons Wrangler is successful is that to some people it’s a [blank] canvas,” Manley said. “They start with Wrangler, lift it, put big wheels and tyres on…
“If you use technology smartly that fits the DNA of the brand and the vehicle I don’t think you necessarily have to compromise [with off-road ability].”