US car giant Jeep says it has no plans to walk away from right-hand-drive markets – even though its rival General Motors will retreat from Australia, Thailand and New Zealand by the end of 2021 after getting out of the UK, South Africa and India over the past three years.
The man in charge of Jeep in Australia, Kevin Flynn, said he has been advised by parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that it is committed to right-hand-drive production.
“We are utterly committed to right-hand drive,” said Flynn. “That is the reason why there is so much focus on Australia now, and we should be playing a bigger role. Australia has not been a place that we can celebrate success recently and Detroit wants Australia to succeed.”
Mr Flynn said the focus now is on rebuilding Jeep in Australia following a lengthy and dramatic sales slide.
From Jeep Australia's peak in 2014 – when 30,408 vehicles were sold – the company's 2019 sales result of just 5500 vehicles was the fifth year in a row in decline – and the lowest result in 11 years, since the Global Financial Crisis in 2009.
In that time, the Australian new-car market has grown by 13 per cent and, more worryingly for Jeep, SUV sales have increased by 156 per cent since 2009 – and yet the brand hasn't been able to capitalise on that massive growth.
“We can only change what is going forward,” said Mr Flynn. “And that starts with understanding the reasons Jeep was once a big player in the Australian market, but that’s not the case now. What was the cause?”
Mr Flynn said he has spent a lot of time visiting dealers in metro and regional areas in his first six months in the job.
“It is reassuring how loyal Jeep owners are,” said Mr Flynn. “They have a lot of positive stories, a deep bond with the brand, and they love owning a Jeep.”
Mr Flynn says the company continues to improve efficiencies within the dealer and service network. For example, he said, if a Jeep in a regional area has a fault, an expert will fly in to diagnose the problem quickly.
“We have four highly qualified Jeep technicians who are regional-based,” said Mr Flynn. “Obviously they will work out the potential issue quickly, but they will also work out the fastest and most efficient way to fix that issue.”
Mr Flynn said the company is also “looking forensically at parts pricing, looking at 17,000 parts numbers to rationalise costing and availability”.
Part of that process will include streamlining the local model line-up, he says.
“We ... need to make it easier for the dealer, easier for us at head office, and easier for our customers," said Mr Flynn. "We’re taking 39 (model) derivatives down to 25, adding more standard safety specification, and focusing on two groups of product."
The next models Jeep Australia will focus on are soft-roaders such as the Compass, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, which will be rationalised to Night Eagle, Limited, S Limited (Grand Cherokee gets a 5.7 S Limited as well as diesel) specification grades.
“We’ll also have the halo SRT and Trackhawk variants in Australia,” said Mr Flynn. “The Hemi V8 and everything that comes with it is an important point of difference for the Jeep brand.”
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