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Geneva show: Jeep plans top-10 sales position

Loading up: Jeep's top-10 sales ambitions in Australia hinge on the company acquiring a ute, which may hark back to the Gladiator concept of 2005.

Jeep ute on the cards as iconic Yankee brand aims for top-10 in Australian market

Jeep logo5 Mar 2014

By RON HAMMERTON in GENEVA

AUSTRALIA’S fastest-growing motor vehicle company, Jeep, not only wants to become Australia’s top-selling SUV brand but also a top-10 player in the overall market, with an expanded line-up that could include a ute to take on big-selling light trucks such as the Toyota HiLux and Nissan Navara.

Jeep is believed to be in negotiations with another manufacturer to share a ute, rebadging it as a Jeep for Australia.

The plans are still tightly under wraps, but Jeep executives are keen on the idea of expanding the Jeep brand into more high-volume segments, not just in Australia but globally.

Global Jeep CEO Mike Manley voiced the sales ambitions for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles at the Geneva motor show overnight where the American company unveiled its newest weapon in its global quest for sales, the Renegade – its first entrant in the booming small SUV segment.

In Australia, the baby Jeep will be a major plank in plans to launch Jeep into the big-time, alongside the new Cherokee mid-sized SUV that arrives about June and a Patriot/Compass replacement due in late 2015 or early 2016.

In Australia, Jeep sales soared 162 per cent in 2013. So far this year, Jeep sales are already up by a large lump again, with the flagship Grand Cherokee toppling Toyota’s Prado in February to be number one in the large SUV segment for the sixth time in eight months.

Last year, Jeep was ranked seventh in Australian SUV sales, with 22,170 new registrations – less than half of market leader Toyota’s 56,139 sales. However, it has been growing apace, overtaking Ford’s SUV tally and closing in on Holden.

Mr Manley said he would like to see Jeep as the number-one SUV company in Australia, and but more, he would like Jeep to make it into the top 10 of overall vehicle sales.

He said Jeep would need to compete in the pick-up segment if the company was to crack the Australian sales top 10, in which vehicles such as the HiLux, Navara, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton regularly appear among the best-selling vehicle monthly tallies compiled by VFACTS.

He stopped short of confirming a ute in Jeep’s forward plans, but nor did he rule one out.

GoAuto understands that because no suitable ute architecture appears to be in the works within the group, negotiations are underway with another vehicle manufacturer to provide a rebadged Jeep model in Australia and other markets where pick-ups play a major role.

 center imageFrom top: Jeep Renegade, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler.

Quizzed whether a Jeep ute was forthcoming, Mr Manley told GoAuto that question would likely be answered in May when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne plans to make a major announcement of the multinational car-maker’s long-term strategic direction and model plans.

Jeep was at one stage considering a ute version of its next-generation Wrangler, as previewed by the 2005 Gladiator concept. Mr Manley also told GoAuto in 2012 that the company had been drawing on the expertise of van specialist Fiat Professional and US truck brand Ram for its pick-up truck program.

Mr Marchionne’s forthcoming announcements are also expected to include confirmation by Mr Marchionne of plans for a sportscar to be co-developed with Mazda, based on its next-generation MX-5.

Mr Marchionne would only say at Geneva that the Fiat Chrysler joint venture with Mazda was still alive, and that up to two brands in the Fiat Chrysler group could become the home for the new small soft-top roadster. It was thought previously that only Alfa was a candidate.

If the Fiat Chrysler version of the roadster is sold as an Alfa, it will be the only Alfa made outside Italy, coming from Mazda’s Hiroshima plant, Mr Marchionne said.

A born-again Grand Wagoneer large seven-seat wagon might also play a part in the expansion of Jeep’s Australian line-up.

Mr Manley all but ruled out a factory RHD Grand Wagoneer, saying it was “very unlikely” due to a lack of RHD sales potential, but added cryptically: “We have recently found new ways of making right-hand drive more cost-effectively.”

GoAuto understands the group is weighing up a proposal to get around the problem by converting the vehicle to RHD in New Zealand for Australasia.

Mr Manley said he had been extremely pleased with Jeep’s performance in Australia, and indicated that he would empower Australia’s factory-owned distributor, Fiat Chrysler Group, to hold its hard-won gains and aim even higher.

Asked if he thought the recent devaluation of the Australian dollar against the American currency might mean Jeeps could suffer a price hiccup, Mr Manley said Jeep would not give up sales volume gains in any market without a fight.

“We don’t want to go backward,” he said. However, he added that there was a limit to how much exchange rate pain could be absorbed.

“We hope it (the Aussie dollar) will start to go the other way again.”

Jeep and Alfa Romeo have been singled out for the full global treatment by Fiat Chrysler, entering all regions in a double-barrel attack.

Alfa will soon resume hostilities in the US, while Jeep is expanding its footprint in Europe with vehicles such as the city-friendly Renegade.

Maserati, with its rapidly expanding range that soon will include a Porsche 911 rival in the form of the Alfieri 2+2 coupe shown at Geneva – is also destined for big things, as is “dream brand” Ferrari.

However, Mr Marchionne all but signalled the imminent death of Italian brand Lancia, which he said would be restricted to the Italian market – a position that many pundits believe is one step ahead of euthanasia, possibly in the May plan announcement.

Dodge will also be largely restricted to markets such as North America, Latin America and the Middle East where the brand has greater cache.

In Australia, only one Dodge model is sold – the Journey.

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