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Following three years of consecutive record sales, including more than 1 million vehicles in 2014, the Jeep brand has no plans of idling as it scales the global automotive industry.

Jeep CEO and President Mike Manley called 2014 a "huge milestone for the brand," as it increased sales 39 percent globally and met an aggressive goal of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne to sell a million vehicles. But there's still challenges ahead as Jeep aims for a fourth consecutive year of record growth, according to Manley.

"We expect growth," he said during a phone interview with The Detroit News on Tuesday. "We're kind of halfway to where we want to be."

Jeep expects to sell 1.9 million vehicles by 2018, an increase of roughly 160 percent from 2013 — the beginning of a five-year plan from FCA to globalize the more than 70-year-old brand. It sold 1,017,019 vehicles in 2014.

The next challenge is continuing that growth in 2015. In the U.S., Jeep will launch its Renegade subcompact, a major example of the global ambitions Manley and Marchionne have for Jeep. Built in Italy, it is the only Jeep to ever be exclusively manufactured outside the U.S. It's also Jeep's first subcompact vehicle.

The Renegade launched in Europe in late-2014, selling about 9,000 models. It's expected to hit U.S. showrooms by February.

'Transformational year'

While the U.S. market is expected to remain Jeep's leading market for the foreseeable future, its global markets will arguably be the most important for the brand's expansion in 2015 and beyond.

"If you look globally, Jeep hasn't had a huge footprint, and it's growing that," said Michelle Krebs, Autotrader.com senior analyst. "The potential is tremendous."

Manley called 2015 a "transformational year" in the globalization of the brand, as it launches localized production of Jeep vehicles in China and Brazil.

Jeep sales rose 42 percent in the Asia-Pacific region to 132,948 in 2014. They increased 49 percent to 88,769 in China — the world's largest automobile market.

Production in China should begin by the end of this year and in Brazil early in the second quarter.

"It's a very desirable global brand," Krebs said. "It has widespread appeal across numerous demographics."

The first model to be produced in Brazil will be the Renegade. Two additional models will follow in 2015 and 2016, according to FCA.

By 2018, Jeep expects to produce six nameplates at 10 plants in six countries. Prior to the Italian-built Renegade, Jeep built five nameplates at three U.S. facilities.

One million sales

Manley said he didn't consider obtaining the goal — announced by Marchionne last January during a press conference at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit — to be a "slam dunk" but felt it could be done.

"We're very disciplined in our approach as to how we build Jeep," he said. "We were able to get the momentum we were hoping for within the brand."

Automotive analysts at the time called the goal ambitious but attainable, given the growing popularity of sport and crossover utility vehicles and Jeep's momentum and new offerings in the marketplace.

"A few years ago it didn't seem possible," said Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell. "It was kind of a perfect storm of activity that allowed them to get to that point."

That storm, Caldwell said, included increasing popularity around the crossover and sport utility vehicle segment, lower gas prices and the introduction of the Cherokee — the second best-selling vehicle for the brand in 2014.

2014 also marked the fifth consecutive year of increased Jeep sales, both globally and in the U.S. All Jeep models recorded increased sales.

mwayland@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2504

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