Jeep is one of the greatest automotive brands in American history, and I am worried about it. The company has managed to survive against incredible odds, having been kicked-around between multiple owners and suffering bouts of incredible mismanagement, but they may now be on the verge of own self destruction . . . because they are losing their soul.
As the former owner of a 1978 Jeep J10 ‘Honcho’ pickup (see photo), I understand the ‘Jeep thing’ . . . and I know what would make me look at a Jeep the next time I’m in the market. But Jeep’s minders at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)—like its former minders at the U.S. federal government, Cerberus Capital Management, and Daimler-Chrysler—seem to be moving the brand squarely in the wrong direction.
Jeeps are supposed to be rugged, reliable, go-anywhere vehicles. Their value is in their capabilities. They have carved out a loyal niche with the Wrangler (the modern version of the classic CJ’s), which is one of the only capable, compact off-roaders that you can buy anymore.
Today’s leaders at Jeep seem to want to broaden their market, and have branched out into building run-of-the-mill crossovers. This is a major strategic error. There is plenty of room for Jeep to grow, but it shouldn’t be trying to grow by fighting head-on against every other company in the automotive market. They need to grow by making compelling products and compelling arguments that nobody else will make. They need to build a niche and keep an impenetrable hold on it. It’s better to have ten-thousand dedicated, loyal customers who won’t even look at anybody else’s products than to have a hundred-thousand that are willing to consider you . . . as one option in a sea of fifty others.
I gave the Jeep Cherokee—a reasonably competitive mid-sized crossover—the dishonorable mention in my piece, The Ugliest Cars of the 2014 Model Year. This mention was not because it is especially ugly, although the front-end could use some work, but because it marks an unfortunate turn for Jeep. Sure, the Cherokee is a fine vehicle, and it is selling well. But there is more to Jeep’s long-term success than moving more cars off the lot. They need to align themselves to be able to continue moving cars off the lot for years and decades to come. As I wrote in the aforementioned piece: Read More…