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New Jeeps ‘to drive sales turnaround’

Small steps: The new Compass crossover rolls into dealerships this week and will add volume to Jeep’s sales tally.

Jeep sales set to get a lift from new product rollout in 2018

Jeep logo13 Dec 2017

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia says it expects a Jeep new-model onslaught involving the replacement or heavy revision of most of its range in 2018 to revive Australian Jeep sales over the next 12 months.

Jeep has experienced a significant sales slide since it hit a record 30,408 units in 2014, dropping by nearly 20 per cent in 2015 and then diving by 48.3 per cent in 2016.

The SUV specialist’s sales highs happened under previous CEOs Clyde Campbell and Veronica Johns, who were both accused by their former employer of mishandling funds. A civil case over the claims was settled last year.

Since then, new management has introduced more sustainable sales goals as well as implementing a number of programs to improve the customer experience.

Speaking with journalists at a media event for the Jeep Compass in Melbourne this week, FCA Australia CEO Steve Zanlunghi detailed the new model rollout that will reverse the car-maker’s sales fortunes Down Under.

“Any time you introduce new products, it is going to change the perception of your brand, especially if you have good product,” he said. “We haven’t launched an all-new product here since the Renegade in 2015.

“So you look at what we have coming, which is Compass first, then the halo with the (Grand Cherokee) Trackhawk, then we have got a new Cherokee coming which plays in a larger segment (than Compass) in Australia, then JL (Wrangler) then a refreshed Renegade at the end of the year. I think when we are talking this time next year, Jeep is going to be in totally different place.”

Mr Zanlunghi declined to reveal Jeep’s Australian sales targets for next year, but detailed the strategy that he says will help the brand return to growth.

“We are looking for controlled growth,” he said. “We are not looking to chase market share. We are looking to make sure we can sell enough cars and service our customers properly.”

To the end of November this year, Jeep sales are down 35.6 per cent over the same period of 2016, with 7539 units shifted with one month 2017 to go.

The sales of all current model lines in the range are down by double figures, but each of them will be replaced or refreshed by the end of next year.

Mr Zanlunghi said he was not satisfied with Jeep’s recent sales results, but pointed to the work the company had put in to its aftersales and customer service programs in the past couple of years.

“As far as sales numbers go, I wouldn’t say I am satisfied with it,” he said.

“What I would say is I am satisfied with all of the foundations we have laid this year.

“If you look back at some of the things we have done on the aftersales side, with what we have done with customer service where we see our net promoter score and our aftersales customer service, we are at the highest levels we have ever been with Jeep in Australia.

“And then you look at what we launched here in February, less than a year ago, with the ‘There and Back Guarantee’ with the five-year warranty, the capped-price servicing and lifetime roadside assist, that was a pretty big thing for us to launch.”

Mr Zanlunghi was coy about whether the freshly launched new-generation Compass crossover would become Jeep’s best seller in Australia.

“We have got some pretty good aspirations for the vehicle,” he said.

“Grand Cherokee has been our bread and butter and has been the catalyst for growth for us since we launched the 2017 model year we have seen sales increase.”

While there have been several months of positive sales growth for the updated Grand Cherokee, its overall year-to-date sales are down 17 per cent so far this year.

While he was quiet on when we can expect a new-generation Grand Cherokee to replace the model that dates back to early 2011, Mr Zanlunghi confirmed the big SUV’s line-up would be simplified next year.

“We are going to do something to the product line-up for 2018, where we are going to streamline, simplify, add some equipment. But what you see in the 2017 is going to be the basis for it.

“We spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this (model-year update), so it wasn’t a small, minute thing – it was pretty big. A lot of it was under the skin.”

Mr Zanlunghi said the plug-in hybrid version of the new-generation Wrangler that was announced at last month’s Los Angeles motor show could be offered Down Under if there was enough demand, but it was unlikely for now.

“It just depends if there is demand for it,” he said. “As you know, when you have an electrified powertrain, there is going to be a lot of cost to it. If we need to and there is demand for it, we can introduce it, absolutely.

“If you look at some of our competitors, their sales are less than one per cent in this market, when you look at other SUVs with electric.

“Even if you walked up the range to Grand Cherokee and Cherokee, do you think there is demand? Is there infrastructure for it first of all? I can tell you I don’t see too many plug in points here.

“Then you look at issues like range, when you get outside metro area, as you know it is a pretty vast country.”

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