Jeep gearing up for new compact SUV, next-gen Wrangler

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Chelsea — Jeep is on track for another record year of global sales, as it prepares for a highly important launch of a new compact SUV and the unveiling of the next-generation Wrangler.

Head of Jeep Mike Manley said the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV brand will unveil the replacement for the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot compacts in late September at the Pernambuco plant in Brazil; that’s where it will be produced along with plants in Mexico and China. It is expected to make its U.S. debut in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The name of the vehicle, Manley said, has been decided. He declined to comment on if it will be named the Compass or Patriot. The new SUV is expected to be in U.S. showrooms early next year.

Manley declined to directly comment on the status of the plant in Mexico that’s going to produce the compact SUV for North America, saying “the status is very much on track” at every plant.

“There’s been no delay in terms of our production cadence that we expected,” he said about the compact SUV, which was expected to debut earlier this year.

The decision to change the timing of the unveiling, Manley said, was based on the brand’s development in Brazil. Because the plant opened there last year, it was “appropriate” for the company “to celebrate that in Brazil.”

New Wrangler

The next-generation Wrangler, Manley said, will be unveiled in the first half of next year, with the development of the iconic SUV on schedule to arrive in 2017.

“I’m delighted in the way it’s turning out,” he said. “Not just from a styling point of view, but from the overall (standpoint of) what Wrangler stands for, I think it’s just going to increase that.”

All of the plans for the retooling of the Toledo Assembly Complex, where the SUV is built, are “all but finalized,” Manley said. The facility, he said, will continue to produce the current Wrangler for “a very small period of time.”

Manley said a Jeep pickup based off the next-generation Wrangler is still slated for 2018. He said the pickup is “looking fantastic, absolutely fantastic.”

The next-generation Wrangler is expected to be more fuel efficient and lighter with some added aluminum components.

Smaller Jeep

A Jeep smaller than the subcompact Renegade, which was introduced last year, could be in the brand’s future.

“I have a strong belief that there is the opportunity for a smaller Jeep beyond Renegade,” he said. “I think that opportunity lies outside (North America).”

The vehicle, Manley said, could be sold in the region, however it wouldn’t be the first market to launch the SUV.

The small Renegade has helped drive the brand’s sales globally up 20 percent through May — on track for a fifth-consecutive year of global sales.

Jeep sold more than 1.2 million units last year for 22 percent growth globally and 25 percent domestically; Latin America experienced the largest Jeep growth, 135 percent.

Manley also clarified that the upcoming Grand Wagoneer — expected in 2018 or later — will be a top-end version of the large luxury SUV, not a separate vehicle. There was speculation that the two could be different vehicles following comments in January by Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.

He also mentioned the automaker could potentially use some of the platform of the next-generation Ram 1500 for a SUV, which other automakers have done.

Manley said a mid-size pickup remains an option for the Ram brand, which he also oversees. Ram, he said, continues to expand its presence in Latin America.

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