2014 Detroit Auto Show
At the 2014 Detroit auto show, we had the opportunity to sit down with Jeep CEO Mike Manley. With the Wrangler due for some major changes, we ask him about the brand’s halo model, efficiency, and how the brand can move forward.
Car and Driver: The Cherokee launch was pretty rocky. What did you learn?
Mike Manley: We were very clear right from the beginning that the vehicle would only be launched when we were 100 percent happy with the quality and development work. And that took us longer than we thought, for sure. So we delayed the launch until we were comfortable that we had the right calibration in the transmission and everything was fine for the car, which we think was absolutely the right thing to do. What we’ve learned is that we made the right decision that it has to be right before it’s launched, and that we have to be less transparent with the media as to what our target dates are because it’s unhelpful when you’re saying “the vehicle’s delayed, the vehicle’s delayed,” when we’ve been clear that we’re not going to release it until the vehicle is ready.
C/D: Do hybrids fit the Jeep brand?
MM: Over time, absolutely. It’s impossible for me to say very specifically when, but we’ve made significant gains in fuel economy with every vehicle we’ve launched, we’ve brought diesel to Grand Cherokee, and we’ll continue to drive fuel economy gains. And at some stage, with all of the standards coming, hybrids will be required.
C/D: The Wrangler community is bracing itself for some big changes with the next one, including an independent suspension and a diesel engine. Would you agree that their expectations are legitimate?
MM: What I would say to them is that Wrangler and what it stands for is very important to the brand. Obviously what we need to do with next-generation Wrangler is drive its fuel economy in the right direction, some of which will include weight, some of that will include new technology, but it has to be a Wrangler, which means it has to be capable. To some extent, a Wrangler is a canvas, and many of our customers like to customize their Wrangler, and we recognize that in the next generation that still has to be a very simple thing for them to do. In terms of diesel, that’s something we’re looking at, because I think diesel is, potentially, a powertrain solution for Wrangler.
C/D: Is Wrangler a victim of its own success, in that because it’s selling so well as two models you have no incentive to add another body style or try new things?
MM: If I was only relying on what happens today, the marketplace would take me over. If I rely on the Wrangler selling out as being the picture in two years time, I’m going to find myself in a very different situation, trying to catch up. You have to live in the world of the future when you think about what you want to do with your product. One of the things we’ve learned loud and clear since the emergence from the restructuring is very proactive lifecycle management, and we’ve benefited from that. If you take Compass and Patriot, for example, we’ve just had a record year with those. And one of the reasons is we’ve had a much better approach with lifecycle management, with special editions, with sometimes a minor (styling) intervention that is important to our customers. We have an environment where resting on laurels is not rewarded.
C/D: Land Rover, the other dedicated off-road brand, has really stretched their brand with urbane vehicles like the Evoque. Can Jeep do that?
MM: I think we can stretch our brand, and we can probe these segments. One of these will be the B-SUV that we launch in Europe next year, and we’ve talked about Grand Wagoneer, which will stretch our brand onto the upper luxury side. And the brand can certainly take that with no problems as long as we execute properly. We’ve already done it to a degree with the SRT Grand Cherokee, which is capability in a different form.