We've been hearing rumors and seeing hints about DaimlerChrysler moving the Jeep nameplate towards more non-offroad vehicles, but a recent Autoweek.com article really lays everything out.
Here's the bottom line: DaimlerChrysler wants to expand Jeep sales, therefore, they're going to expand the Jeep lineup. Are they going to expand the lineup with more rugged 4x4s? Nope. They're going to expand their lineup where it will affect the bottom line the greatest, with the majority of consumers who don't take their vehicles off-road. Here's a snippet from this excellent article:
The Chrysler group plans to expand the Jeep line with SUVs that move away from Jeep's historic roots and won't be serious off-road vehicles.
"We have to extend our lineup" and offer Jeeps that will be used "99 percent of the time on-road," COO Wolfgang Bernhard said last week at a press event in Austin, Texas.
The decision comes as the Chrysler group is spending heavily to position Jeep as the "real 4x4" in a world in which the definition of an SUV is expanding.
Jeep has been wrestling with whether to offer smoother-riding, more carlike SUVs. The division now will try to straddle both worlds. It will keep its 4x4 models as "authentic" SUVs and will add a generation of less-rugged vehicles to compete against softer-riding sport wagons.
The Chrysler group needs to re-energize Jeep because the brand has slipped badly in recent years. Jeep held 19.0 percent of the U.S. SUV market in 1999 but only 11.2 percent in 2002.
The Chrysler group is preparing to expand the Jeep line to at least six vehicles within the next three years. Scheduled to join the Jeep line are:
The Scrambler: A pickup derivative of the Wrangler due next summer.
A premium SUV: A four-door SUV based on the next-generation Grand Cherokee platform.
An entry-level SUV: Likely to be a Liberty derivative; expected in 2005 or 2006.
Bernhard did not say whether the premium SUV and entry-level SUV will be aimed at buyers who use their vehicle for trips to the mall, not off-roading.
"We do recognize what a treasure we have in the Jeep brand, and rather than leaving this nugget unearthed and without use, we will unearth it," Bernhard said. "We will maximize the value of the brand. We will expand the Jeep line and include vehicles that we haven't offered."