It’s the brand with a heritage and history that other manufacturers would kill for. It’s the genesis of 4WDing, a kind of Moses of low-range. Hell, Dwight Eisenhower placed the victory of the Second World War at the feet of the Jeep, amongst some other machinery. In Australia, Jeep’s reputation is somewhat double-sided. Some wouldn’t dream of driving anything else; others wouldn’t piss on one, if it was on fire.
Lately, Jeep has tasted the sweet nectar of success in a big way… with the Grand Cherokee racking up a huge growth in sales. But at the same time, the company has had some serious problems.
The WK2 success story
Using a platform based on the Mercedes-Benz M-Class, the Jeep Grand Cherokee that was initially revealed at the 2009 Paris Motor Show became an unrivalled success story for Jeep in Australia. While the 2009 and 2010 sales of the WK Grand Cherokee fell below 500, sales of the new (and improved) model flew upwards to 3,374 before hitting an impressive peak of 16,582 in 2014. This is because the Grand Cherokee was well specced, powerful and fuel efficient – and very well priced compared to the competition.
Why has it gone bad?
What goes up, must come down. Since those lofty heights of defeating the LandCruiser Prado, the Grand Cherokee has logged 40% drops in sales for each year afterwards – with 2016 logging only 6,379 sales. 2017 is shaping up to continue that trend of declining sales as well, despite a mid-life facelift.
The exchange rate factor
One element that Jeep has blamed for its flagging sales is the American dollar exchange rate. The strong Australian dollar was hitting (and exceeding) parity with the Greenback back between 2010 and 2014, but has since then gone back to more traditional levels – which makes the Jeep a more expensive vehicle to buy in Australia.
Recalls and reliability
There is no way to really and accurately tell how reliable a car might or might not be, but you can get a half-decent idea of what you’re in for with a bit of research. A quick search of the Australian Product Safety website indicates that between now and 2007, FCA submitted 80 separate recalls that included the word ‘Jeep’. This makes it a bit of an anomaly compared to other manufacturers. But the problems didn’t stop there: It wasn’t just cars that had problems, FCA seemed to have endemic shortcomings in dealing with said problems. It got so bad that the ACCC started investigating, and forced the company to undertake a ‘consumer redress program’. They got off lightly in Australia; their American counterparts got fined $105 million by the auto safety regulators.
A lot of these really bad situations don’t make it to the media, because of a nefarious legal trick called the ‘gag order’. Also called a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), this is a document that manufacturers will force to you sign which effectively stops you from saying anything bad about the manufacturer.
The MC Saga (that hasn’t gone away)
One thing that has no doubt hurt the Jeep brand in Australia over the past couple of years is the MA/MC saga, which we wrote about back in Issue 032. In a nutshell, there are some 4WDs on the market that are not classified as off-road vehicles. It’s a small, bureaucratic problem, which has serious and palpable ramifications for the owners of these vehicles. Ford’s Everest and Haval’s H9 were plagued with this problem, but the manufacturers have since rectified and re-certified their 4X4 models into the off-road MC category. Jeep hasn’t regarded the problem as a problem, which means the Grand Cherokee 4X4 is (according to some pages in a book) not an off-road vehicle. The original 4X4 with a 70+ year history of off-road action doesn’t have the legal off-road credentials that a softroader has? That stinks.
What is Jeep doing to fix the problems?
FCA has recognised the issue, and is going to big lengths to try and turn its ship around. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard anything about Jeep wanting to change the MA-certified Grand Cherokee. There have been changes in the executive end of town in Australia, and some of the new faces have identified that there are two major problems with the brand: Reliability and customer service. Quality control just doesn’t seem to be up to the job, especially when they are competing against the likes of Toyota, Mercedes and BMW.
FCA has spent considerable time and money engineering the training side of dealerships, so that problems can be quickly and accurately identified and fixed. In other words, its incredible growth over a few years caught the company by surprise. While it was ready and happy to sell cars, its back-of-house wasn’t really ready to handle tens of thousands of new customers every year.
There is also a new five-year warranty for all Jeeps, from 2017 onwards. It’s called the ‘There and Back Guarantee’, and includes a ‘lifetime roadside assist’. The warranty still tops out at 100,000km, and you can only use the roadside assist if you service your vehicle exclusively through Jeep dealerships.
What’s in the future for the Seven Slot Grille?
Despite all of the gloom surrounding Jeep lately, the future does look bright. Its initial success and mainstream appeal caught the company off-guard, but FCA Australia does seem to be tackling the problems head-on. And it will have to, as well; hopefully before launching some new vehicles on the horizon that will redefine the brand.
The new JL Wrangler is coming soon, which should replace the ageing JK with a good bump to sales figures. It’s going to have the same combination of traditional looks, superb off-road capability and fun lifestyle appeal. The JL is going to bring a ute variant too – which will open the Wrangler up to a much wider base of buyers who are looking for dual-cab utes.
Jeep is also blowing the dust off the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer segment, which probably won’t represent big-volume sellers in Australia… but could make a big difference to the reputation of the brand if they are good vehicles. Imagine a Grand Cherokee but bigger (Discovery, LandCruiser 200 sized); and the Grand Wagoneer will line up against the luxuries of the Range Rovers and Lexus 4X4s of the world.
The Grand Cherokee has been facelifted in 2017 – sporting a new look, refreshed interior and more spec. But like shares, vehicle reputations go up via the stairs and down via the elevator. Jeep will have to work hard to build up a solid reputation, to impress an Australian public with a good memory for duds.