It’s safe to say that Jeep fans are a bit rabid – they love the Wrangler’s old-school feel and design that is plucked right from the ’40s. These fans also put a priority on the capability of their trucks and SUVs. For a brand with such an enthusiastic club of owners, it is always nerve-wracking to introduce a new technology, feature, powertrain, or body style; yet Jeep has been able to innovate in exciting ways without impacting the authenticity of its brand, and that bodes well for its sales success.
The balance for authenticity while maintaining competitiveness is a difficult one to achieve. In recent memory, few of the following examples were met with acceptance from the brand’s fanbase: Ford attaching the Mustang name to a four-door EV, Aston Martin and Lamborghini introducing SUVs, Toyota outsourcing the production of its Supra sports car to BMW and Mitsubishi reviving the Eclipse name for use on a crossover.
Yet Jeep has been able to turn the fan-favourite Wrangler into a pickup truck, stuff a 707 horsepower V8 in its family-friendly SUV, and recently introduce a more fuel-efficient gas engine, a diesel, and teased electrified powertrains, all of which are usually a tough sell for brands with an established legacy, not to mention an established fanbase. Suddenly, Jeep doesn’t seem so old-school.
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“I think part of it comes from listening to our customers over the years,” says Jim Morrison, Head of Jeep Brand in North America. “Jeep is almost 80 years old now, and we’re a very passionate brand with almost 50 million customers. Over the years they’ve asked us to expand to different markets, different segments, and different offerings; and just by paying attention to our customers we’ve evolved the range to be as diverse as it is today.”
All of Jeep’s new products, be it a compact crossover like the Compass or large pickup truck like the Gladiator are Trail Rated – indicative of Jeep’s uncompromising standards when delivering new products in new segments to answer consumer demand. The brand demonstrated a new plug-in hybrid Wrangler back in CES, suggesting even its electrified vehicles will be as rugged as the rest of them.
Jeep doesn’t seem to mind shaking things up. An electrified Wrangler is as bold of an idea as a diesel sports car. A track-focused Grand Cherokee is as wild as an off-road-ready Camaro. Jeep seems to have no reservations making these moves.
Leading with four wheels
“[Innovation] in these vehicles is a natural evolution that is going to be consistent with the Jeep DNA,” Morrison says. “Looking at everything from the first four-wheel drive to the first automatic transfer case to the first automatic locking hubs and disconnecting sway bars, front and rear lockers... Our DNA is four-wheel-drive leadership”
Morrison says that the brand takes this all very seriously. “We don’t just put a Trail Rated badge on a vehicle unless we purpose-build and engineer and police that type of technology,” he says. “We take it very seriously because we are the authentic brand that came from military roots back in 1941 and evolved to this point by listening to our customers.”
While other automakers limit changes to their products or lineups to please the fan base, Jeep’s focus and authenticity allow it to make these changes without upsetting its customers. “They’re our guiding light,” Morrison says.