Plans for the all-new larger SUV – which was outed as part of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles five-year plan laid down by company chief Sergio Marchionne – are progressing despite some trepidation over the market readiness for what could be the first Jeep to offer a variant priced above $100,000 (in Australia).
The new model - which will become the “most premium Jeep we will have ever made” when it launches mid-2018 - is presenting some challenges, according to Jeep international product planning chief Adrian van Campenhout.
Speaking to CarAdvice at the launch of the new Renegade baby SUV, van Campenhout said the brand will do what it has to do in order to get the new model over the line, but it doesn’t appear as though the process will be a simple one.
“Obviously [FCA chief Sergio Marchionne] has a vision for where the brand needs to go. And that’s where we’re going to go,” he said.
He admitted that the brand needs a bigger SUV with more practicality – namely extra seating – but van Campenhout indicated that he wasn’t sure who will want to buy the car, which is expected to be priced at a significant premium over the Grand Cherokee.
“The question is, what are the conquest opportunities that go along with it?” he posited.
“Let’s talk about Australia and New Zealand for a second. We need to make sure that there’s a strong brand cache that can support whatever that next level is, right?” he asked, indicating the new model would take a step up both in size and price.
“Is Jeep there at this moment?” he asked the gathered Australian and New Zealand media, to which the reply was affirmative. Jeep sales in Australia rose 37.2 per cent in 2014, with more than 30,000 vehicles sold, while NZ also saw record sales.
Another element that van Campenhout said was vital to the success of the upcoming large SUV is its off-road nature. In short, if it can’t live up to the standards set by models smaller than it, the Grand Wagoneer could be in strife.
“It has to continue that tradition [of off-road capability],” he said, before indicating that the model needs to be capable enough to garner the brand’s Trailhawk badge.
Traditionally envisaged to indicate whether a vehicle could hold its own on the treacherous Rubicon Trail, van Campenhout admitted the branding is variable depending on the model it is being applied to. A Renegade Trailhawk, for example, isn’t as capable as a Cherokee Trailhawk, which in turn falls short of the level of off-road prowess of the Grand Cherokee, and finally the Wrangler, which is “the pinnacle” for bush-bashing.
“Our brand strategy is to deliver credibility all the time. There has to be capability for off-roading in all of our models,” van Campenhout said.
When asked if that could be a challenge for a model larger, longer and heavier than the Grand Cherokee, van Campenhout suggested it wouldn’t be, but that getting it to that point could be costly.
“We have the technology to do whatever needs to be done at any point in time,” he said. “If it needs air suspension, we have air suspension. If we need diesel engines for tractive capability, we have diesel engines to do whatever it is.
“We have all the levers that would need to be pulled to be able to do it,” he said.
“The whole notion of Trail Rated is an evolution that we’ve created ourselves,” he said when asked if the badge is chiefly a marketing tool rather than a strong indicator of engineering.
“When the customer opens up the brochure and they’re flipping to page one and it’s the car in the city, and page two has the car on the beach – because page two always has the car on the beach – but then page three is the Jeep on top of some big rocky mass. There’s a lot of inference in our consumer base, [stating] ‘holy crap, I’m never going to do that’ - that was the Trailhawk,” he said.
Stay tuned for more on the Jeep Grand Wagoneer as news comes to hand.