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FacilitiesRetired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep's Current Direction
Posted by mike on 2006/8/31 8:03:01 (4931) reads

Jerry is a JeepNewsNow.com reader and retired Jeep plant manager. We asked him to give us his thoughts on the direction of the Jeep brand. -mike

As a retired Jeep Manager and long time Jeep Freak, I am often asked questions about the current direction of Jeep in the marketplace. Clearly Jeep is evolving into new areas with increased and more diverse product offerings to gain more customers. The dynamics of this evolution have raised serious concerns for those of us in the veteran Jeep customer base. To better understand these concerns, I need to share some of the Jeep History over the last twenty years.

My experience with Jeep started in Toledo in 1983 as we introduced the new XJ Cherokee and continued through the launch of the TJ Wrangler in 1997. During this stretch I became a veteran of the AMC/Renault regimes and later became an integral member of the transition team for the Chrysler acquisition. The latest change occurred with the Daimler/Chrysler merger which is now considered a takeover by many. The role of the Toledo Assembly Plant, the Management team and the Union workforce went through major changes as we were transformed from the "Heart and Soul of the Jeep Corporation" to just another vehicle assembly plant in the annual production plan of DCX. This was a difficult experience for all of us and there were many casualties along the way. The following points will help to illustrate these transitions.

1. During the 1983 to 1987 timeframe, the Toledo Plant Management and personnel were heavily involved in the styling, design and product engineering development of the vehicles being produced at the Toledo facilities. Vehicles such as the XJ Cherokee, Comanche Pickup and unique variations for the right-hand drive, diesel engine, police and special duty postal vehicles were prototyped and piloted at the Toledo Plant. Tool and Die development along with some fabrication was also done by the plant in conjunction with AMC/Renault Corporate engineering. This was the normal way of doing business which created an "esprit de corp" in the workforce and pride in our products unequaled in the industry.

2. After the acquisition by Chrysler, the plant was discouraged from activities involving anything outside of vehicle assembly but were still involved to a lesser extent where Chrysler lacked the expertise and historical perspective of what makes a Jeep a "Jeep".

3. This trend continued and by the time Daimler took over, the plant was mostly excluded and all but forbidden from any significant involvement in engineering, styling and design elements of the products. As a consequence, a lot of product knowledge and "Jeep know how" were under-utilized and often lost to the process resulting in product compromise. The product image of ROUGH, TOUGH and DURABLE began to weaken through the use of common DCX designs, components and suppliers. Unfortunately, the most threatening change for the product was the assignment of Engineering and Program Management personnel who didn't know (and didn't seem to want to know) the difference between a Dodge Neon and a Wrangler. I actually met an engineer who was working on Wind and Water Integrity during the TJ launch who did not know that there was a CJ in the Jeep lineage and could not understand why anyone would ever take off their doors or fold down the windshield. Now that should scare you!!

Don't get me wrong. The Jeep brand is stronger today because of DCX and their involvement to expand the product offerings to appeal to more that just the hardcore off-road types. But the concern is that the expansion of the Jeep brand must not come at the expense of Jeep's legendary position as the leader in the four wheel drive and SUV market. One can only hope that the Jeep lineup will not be allowed to degenerate into lame, gutless, passenger car weanies that will destroy the 65+ years of Jeep's proud history and world recognized icon. For some, the current proliferation of vehicles wearing the Jeep nameplate may be seen as a yellow caution flag. It is unlikely that you will see a Grand Cherokee SRT on the Rubicon Trail anytime soon or that this winter a Jeep Compass will show up to plow the snow from your driveway. Only a few years ago, there was a huge debate over whether the market would support both the XJ Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee with many folks at Chrysler suggesting that would be too many Jeep models for the public to comprehend. That was then and this is now. Today even the most devout Jeepers are struggling with the expansion of Compass, Patriot, Liberty, Grand Cherokee, Commander and the Jeep icon Wrangler. The obvious question is "are all these real Jeeps"? If you look at drivetrains, engines and suspensions you will quickly answer, NO. But not so fast, in the end, the market and the consumer will decide. And while that decision is being made, we may all have to redefine what JEEP really means.

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loner
Posted: 2006/9/1 14:29  Updated: 2006/9/1 14:29
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
I would lighten up my critcism of the Compass and non tradtional Jeeps if they had more excitement and relative value to the auto market in general.

If the compass had been designed as a WRX killer for example with a turbo engine that would be great. Not a traditional Jeep but with dirt tinged flavor. Or how about a Samurai like micro jeep the size of a Scion with a teeny 4cly or hybrid?

These are things that could have expanded the Jeep line in a way that brought no shame but still had relevence, both to Jeep, and something the general public would buy.

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skywater55
Posted: 2006/8/31 13:39  Updated: 2006/8/31 13:39
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
kinda off topic..but Walmart is carrying a 1/6 scale Jeep Gladiator R/C and its cool and also a battery powered kid car Jeep Hurricane....maybe this is a close to a gladiator your going to see, lol...better get one now....

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skywater55
Posted: 2006/8/31 13:35  Updated: 2006/8/31 13:35
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
I visited a dealer last weekend in hopes of seeing the 07 wrangler...not for a couple more weeks...anyway i sat in a compass and it was NICE...the sales person said of all the jeep models the compass has been the hot seller due to its higher fuel economy. There was a dark green one that looked sharp and the wife wanted to trade the wrangler in on it, lol...lucky the title is in my name...hehehehe

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didiacat
Posted: 2006/8/31 12:17  Updated: 2006/8/31 12:17
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
The former plant manager gives a great insight into what is happening.

Why do Jeep people think they must degrade the Compass line. No one will reject the Brand because of this model option. If I want the Wrangler, the fact that Jeep manufactures any other model is irrelevant.

I want Jeep to survive so that I will have a choice in the furure. Slamming the effort to meet the realities of today is counter productive.

I have a Compass. I know it isn't a off roader. I don't care. The vast majority of Jeep owners never go off road.

When the day comes that I can afford to buy and feed it a Rubicon, I could care less what other the Brand assembles. If the Compass helps keep Jeep alive that is a good thing.

Jeep needs to keep the tough off road vehicle alive and if assembling less than monster vehicles helps, it is a good thing.

Some critics need to lighten up.

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Transpower
Posted: 2006/8/31 11:20  Updated: 2006/8/31 11:20
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
I agree that the Compass and SRT should be nixed--although I have to admit the SRT I saw recently at a mall parking lot looked quite good. The Liberty is dubious. Jeep should focus its efforts on the Patriot, Grand Cherokee, the Commander, and the Wrangler, and all should be "trail-rated." Diesel versions should be available in each line. Eventually Diesel-hybrids should be made available, possibly using hydraulics rather than electric batteries.

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scottyc
Posted: 2006/8/31 11:43  Updated: 2006/8/31 11:43
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
"agree that the Compass and SRT should be nixed"

Agree with whom? If you'll read the article, no one ever said the Compass and SRT should be nixed. Jerry said they aren't as off-road capable as the more traditional Jeeps.

Thanks for trying, but you missed the point.

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AngryNJ
Posted: 2006/8/31 8:52  Updated: 2006/8/31 8:52
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
Thanks for the insight Jerry! My last jeep was a 1989 Wrangler. I loved it, and the only problem I had was the POS peugot transmission that needed to be replaced after 8 years. I sold it 5 years ago, and was looking to get a new TJ or JK.

I looked at the TJ this weekend and was quite suprised at the horrible interior quality compared to my jeep which was built 18 years ago!

I cant really decide what to do at this point. TJ or JK... Tough call for me. I could live with the horrible interior, but the TJ may just end up being too small for me in the end. We'll see. I do miss driving a jeep.

In a way, I hope the compass is an utter failure for jeep and the higher ups get taught a lesson.

The decision to cancel the Gladiator and still build a compass is a true flag! More of a DANGER flag though....

Sad.

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jeepxk
Posted: 2006/8/31 9:43  Updated: 2006/8/31 9:43
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
I would have to strongly disagree that the YJ interior quality is better than the TJ. As a matter of fact that must be a joke!
As much as I love the Jeeps of the 80's and early 90's they do not compare in quality to what was being produced in the late 90's to now quality wise. That's not to say there are some things on the newer ones that I am not as fond of but overall they are put together much better now and are much more reliable.

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AngryNJ
Posted: 2006/8/31 11:15  Updated: 2006/8/31 11:15
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 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
No, I am not kidding about the interior. The seats on the 06 TJ that I was looking at were really poor quality and looked almost like neoprene or something. The dash is what really suprised me. You could reach behind the dash from the top and grap the incredibly thin plastic. I could see exposed wiring even. It felt like I could rip the dash out with a slight tug. I should have taken some pics. I am going back to the dealer since even with the bad interior, I am still considering an 06 rubi. Maybe I will take some pics.

Granted this jeep was way in the back of the lot and not a showroom vehicle, but still.

This is the only pic I could find on the yj:

http://storm.tocmp.com/jeep/wrangler/1989/06.jpg

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Josephus
Posted: 2006/8/31 9:48  Updated: 2006/8/31 9:48
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Posts: 265
 Re: Retired Jeep Plant Manager Gives Thoughts on Jeep...
I think that it should not be surprising that the Mercedes brass has decided to expand the line-up - look at how many models of Mercedes there are.
I do not think that DCx corporation should continue to produce mediocre vehicle under the Jeep name. DCx has 2 premium brand names Mercedes and Jeep are both considered leaders in their market segments. Producing the Compass under the Jeep moniker is just as rediculous as the Mercedes Compass.
The cost conscious, affordable, "ordinary" vehicles have traditionally been the Chrysler and especially Plymouths.
By watering down the premium badges DCx will loose it's market edge and loyal customer base.
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