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Detroit show: New Cherokee to signal Jeep push

Cherokee warpath: The ageing Jeep Cherokee is set for replacement in 2013, with an all-new model to be shared with Alfa Romeo.

Cherokee the first of three new models to keep rampant Jeep on upward trajectory

24 Dec 2012

AUSTRALIA’S fastest-growing mainstream automotive brand, Jeep, is set to ratchet up its market penetration over the next two years by launching up to three all-new models developed in conjunction with partner Fiat.

The American-based SUV branch of the Fiat Chrysler Group has enjoyed whopping 113 per cent sales growth in Australia so far in 2012, following 44.7 per cent growth in 2011 and 42 per cent in 2010.

Now, a replacement for the mid-sized Cherokee – known in North America as Liberty – is tipped to debut at the Detroit motor show in January ahead of its likely roll-out in Australia in the second half of 2013.

American reports suggest the new Cherokee will – shock, horror – dispense with the current rear-drive-oriented layout and move to a front-drive platform to be shared with Fiat, but with an all-wheel-drive option to give it some bush cred.

Codenamed UJ, the Cherokee’s prime powertrain is expected to be a new 3.2-litre version of the V6 Pentastar engine mated with a ground-breaking nine-speed automatic transmission. A diesel is possible for export markets such as Australia.

The vehicle is expected to be built at Jeep’s refurbished Toledo factory in the US, and probably shared with Fiat subsidiary Alfa Romeo.

9 center imageFrom top: Jeep Partriot, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler.

In 2012, Jeep slashed Australian prices of the Cherokee range by between $4000 and $6000 to boost sales – a move that had the desired effect, with volumes up 31 per cent to the end of November.

Before the new Cherokee arrives in Australia, Jeep is set to launch a facelifted version of its top-selling flagship model, Grand Cherokee, which this year has accounted for almost half of all Jeep sales locally.

Petrol versions of the big SUV are expected to get ZF’s renowned eight-speed automatic transmission – widely used by the likes of BMW and Jaguar – replacing the five-speeder that has done duty in the biggest Jeep since launch.

The US market is also expected to finally get a diesel variant, but as Australia already has the 3.0-litre oil burner, it is unclear if any change will be forthcoming there.

The Grand Cherokee will continue on the Mercedes M-Class-based platform for now – a hangover from the days when Daimler owned Chrysler – with US reports saying it will spawn a seven-seat version called Grand Wagoneer in 2014. This in turn is expected to spawn a Maserati version, called Levant, in 2015.

An all-new Grand Cherokee is due about 2016-17 – about the same time as an all-new Wrangler.

In Australia, the Grand Cherokee has been a runaway success, with sales up almost 160 per cent year to date.

But the Grand Cherokee’s reign as Jeep’s top-seller in this market might come to an end in 2015 when Jeep’s Fiat Punto-based small SUV arrives Down Under.

Fiat last week announced that the new mass-selling Jeep and a Fiat SUV variant to be called 500X will go into production at Fiat’s Melfi plant in Italy, representing a €1 billion ($A1.26 billion) investment by the Fiat Chrysler Group.

“The first of the two new models will be a Jeep utility vehicle that represents the brand's entrance into a new market segment,” Fiat said in a statement.

“Melfi will be the only plant in the world to produce this model and, as for all Jeep products, it will be sold in markets worldwide.

“In addition to the new Jeep, Melfi will also produce the new Fiat 500X, the latest addition to the 500 family which is larger, more spacious and more capable than the 500L launched three months ago.”

The Jeep version has not yet been named, but some journalists are speculating it will be called Scamp.

The competitor for the likes of Subaru’s XV and Holden’s upcoming Trax is unlikely to grace Australia showrooms before the first half of 2015.

Around the same time, Jeep is expected to launch a larger compact SUV – also to sit on a Fiat platform and be shared with that European brand – to take on the likes of the Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, among others.

Speculation suggests the new vehicle will replace both the Compass and Patriot on the Jeep side, and might also be built on the same modular Small Wide platform that Fiat says “can be easily adapted to produce even larger vehicles (the planned small SUV)”.

In Australia, the Compass and Patriot both come in either 2.0-litre 4x2 or 2.4-litre 4x4 guises, fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard or optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic on the top spec.

Between them, they account for about 500 sales a month, or about 30 per cent of Jeep volume.

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