The Chrysler group is combining its Jeep and large-car product development teams, a move that comes as the company wrestles with Jeep's future.
Jeep has been an independent product development team.
Now a single vice president will oversee future Jeeps and the Chrysler group's next generation of large, rear-wheel-drive vehicles. Jeep product developers will remain a distinct group, reporting to engineering chiefs created for each vehicle line, the company's top product development executive says.
Over time, the large-car and Jeep developers will work more closely on under-the-skin components to save money and boost efficiency.
The change is significant because company executives acknowledge that Jeep is at a crossroad. Jeep has long represented off-road capability. But the market is asking for more refined SUVs. Jeep must meet the demand for more carlike ride and handling without betraying its heritage.
"We visit it every day in terms of where Jeep should go to grow in volume," says George Murphy, Chrysler group senior vice president of global brand marketing.
Now, four vehicle platform teams will develop Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler brand vehicles, instead of five groups.
"Jeep and premium vehicles are longitudinal powertrains on unibody construction so we put them together," says Mike Donoughe, Chrysler group vice president of family vehicles. The Jeep Wrangler is the only Jeep vehicle built body-on-frame.
Jeep will always stand for capability, Murphy says.
"We wouldn't make a CR-V, a Ford Escape or a RAV4 for the Jeep brand," Murphy says. "Jeep is the real thing."