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by Tim Beissmann

Jeep will expand its range with three two-wheel-drive models in Australia in the first half of 2012 as the brand looks to broaden the appeal of its SUVs beyond its traditional 4WD customer base.

It is the first time a 2WD Jeep will be sold in Australia in the renowned 4×4 brand’s 71-year history.

The front-wheel-drive Jeep Compass compact soft-roader – relaunched locally on Saturday (January 14) – leads the new arrivals. It will be followed in the coming months by a 2WD version of its tougher-looking mechanical twin, the Jeep Patriot, as well as an entry-level rear-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee. All three models will also be available with conventional 4WD underpinnings.

Chrysler Group Australia managing director Clyde Campbell said the decision to expand the Jeep range with 2WD variants was based on the results of customer focus group surveys as well as the brand’s analysis of the market and its competitors.

“There’s a lot of people that want the convenience and functionality of an SUV but they actually don’t intend to utilise the mechanical aspect of it. It’s more a lifestyle vehicle for them,” Campbell said.

“They don’t want to pay the penalty of an all-wheel drive system either in driving or in the purchase price.”

Four-wheel drive traditionally adds a few thousand dollars to the purchase price of new vehicles, and the extra weight of the more complex drive system increases fuel consumption.

Campbell explained the majority of the growth in the SUV market – especially the compact segment – over the past few years was based on the popularity of 2WD models, and said there was “absolutely” a market for the 2WD Jeep in Australia.

“If we don’t participate we’re missing out on the real growing part of that segment,” he said.

The front-wheel-drive base model Compas is priced from $26,500 before on-roads, while the 4WD model (which also gets a more powerful engine) costs an additional $2000.

The current base model Patriot, the 4×4 Sport manual, is priced from $30,000, suggesting a price of around $28,000 for the new 2WD variant. Campbell admitted Chrysler Group Australia was preparing a repositioning of the Patriot for the coming months, however, which could potentially result in an even lower starting price.

The current Cherokee range is priced from $35,000, suggesting a low-$30,000 price tag for the rear-wheel drive base model.




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