By Alisa Priddle
Detroit Free Press
---- — There are a lot of Jeeps in the pipeline, from a all-new subcompact to a revival of the full-size Grand Wagoneer and a replacement for the Compass and Patriot.
Chrysler has long recognized Jeep’s international appeal. Global sales were 701,000 vehicles in 2012 and this year’s total will be significantly higher. That’s not bad given that the automaker did not have the Jeep Liberty for most of the year and the Cherokee that replaced it only went on sale in late October.
This year, about 25 percent of Jeep sales are coming from outside North America, up from an average of 20 percent in the past.
With the launch of the midsize Cherokee behind him, Jeep CEO Mike Manley is concentrating on the smallest Jeep ever sold in the U.S. The subcompact will be built in Italy for global markets and go on sale about a year from now, Manley said last month at the Los Angeles auto show.
Manley said a name has been chosen for the vehicle, but he didn’t reveal it. The small SUV explores new marketing territory for Jeep, and will compete with the Mini, a new Honda Fit SUV and the Kia Soul.
“I think it will be quite a surprise where customers come from,” he said, noting that crossover sales of all sizes are growing faster than the overall industry.
At the large end of the spectrum is the Grand Wagoneer. Engineered from the underpinnings of the Grand Cherokee with room for a third row of seats, the Grand Wagoneer will be the most luxurious and priciest Jeep ever made.
“We’re looking to make a statement in that segment,” Manley said.
The SUV is still more than a year from showrooms.
Manley would not say where the Wagoneer will be built. The Jefferson North plant where Chrysler makes Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango, is running at capacity on three shifts. There is an idled engine plant nearby, but Manley said the lack of a paint shop rules it out.
“We have thought clearly through where we would make the vehicle and where it needs to be. But we need to wait before we announce anything,” he said.
Still to come is a new model that will replace both the Compass and Patriot. The two compact vehicles are selling well in the final years of their lifecycle. Through November, Compass sales in the U.S. are up 33 percent and Patriot sales rose 21 percent from a year ago.
The two are designed from the same underbody but their styling varies. The Patriot is a throwback to the original Cherokee, while the Compass presents a softer round-edge profile.
“We have decided on which design direction” Jeep wants for the new small SUV, Manley said, but declined to give any details or the name.
As for the next-generation Wrangler, it’s still a few years out.
“We have a vision of what the next Wrangler needs to be,” Manley said.
With a timeless design and no direct competition, the Wrangler can have a longer lifecycle.
“We have progressively made changes over the last few years,” Manley said of the Wrangler, the original Jeep. “It’s a vehicle where we continue to make the appropriate changes to it.”
Jeep is shaped as much by its customers as it has ever been by the company.
“They are very passionate,” Manley said. “The level of engagement is huge.”
When they don’t like a design change, they let dealers and company executives know.
“I am the current guardian of the brand for the enthusiasts,” he said. “We need to make sure that Jeep continues to grow, the brand is healthy, so we can continue to invest in vehicles.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services.