Jeep confirms Trackhawk amid record sales

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — Jeep will achieve its fifth-consecutive year of record global sales this month, and will look to the all-new Compass and a high-performance Grand Cherokee Trackhawk to continue its momentum in 2017.

Mike Manley, head of Jeep, on Wednesday confirmed the record sales and all-new Trackhawk, a track-capable SUV which is targeted to be unveiled at the New York International Auto Show in April.

The Trackhawk has been rumored to be coming for some time with the automaker’s 6.2-liter Hemi supercharged engine that debuted as the Hellcat engine for the Dodge brand, however Manley declined to comment on specifics of the upcoming high-performance SUV.

All-new Jeep Compass takes its cues from Grand Cherokee

“There is international demand for the vehicle, but the U.S. is going to get it first,” he said of the Trackhawk, adding it should arrive in U.S. showrooms next September or October, followed by select international markets such as Asia and the Middle East.

The Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, Manley said, will not replace the current $65,000-plus SRT version of the popular SUV, which has a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. He said there’s currently “space for both,” however any new SRT model under Jeep would probably be called “Trackhawk or something else.”

“I don’t see any reason to stop our current Grand Cherokee SRT just because we’ve launched the Trackhawk, because they’re going to be very different vehicles,” Manley said on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Manley said Jeep faithful have come to expect a performance version of the Grand Cherokee, which has helped expand the brand’s reach.

“With Grand Cherokee, we have built up for a long time, that concept of capability at the two bookends — one: capability off-road, two: capability in terms of on-road performance,” he said. “I like that with Grand Cherokee.”

Kelley Blue Book Executive Publisher Karl Brauer said vehicles like Hellcats, and now Trackhawks, is what helps Fiat Chrysler differentiate itself from its larger competitors.

“I think it’s a great move for them. It plays truly well to who they are,” he said. “While they may face challenges in their market share compared to other companies, the share they own is super loyal because of vehicles like Hellcats and Trackhawks.”

Record sales

Jeep globally sold 1.16 million vehicles through October, which means the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV SUV brand only has to sell 75,000 vehicles this month to best its record sales of about 1.24 million in 2015.

“We’re going to break the record again, for sure,” Manley said. “It keeps us in line with the 1.9 million-2 million for ’18 — still very, very focused on.”

Leading the way for that goal is the mid-size Cherokee, of which the company sold about 293,000 through October. It was followed by the Grand Cherokee at 228,000; subcompact Renegade at 224,000; Wrangler at 201,000; and compact Patriot and Compass at 117,000 and 96,000, respectively.

Manley however believes the all-new Compass, which is making its North American debut Thursday at the Los Angeles Auto Show, will be the leader for the brand by 2018, as it replaces current versions of both the Compass and Patriot.

“It’s really important for us,” Manley said regarding the Compass, adding Jeep has a more than 20 percent market share in the compact SUV segment domestically. “Obviously what we want to do is hold on to that and try and grow. That’s going to be very difficult. The segment is very competitive.”

The majority of Jeep’s future growth, according to Manley, is expected to come from outside of the United States, as the company continues to increase production in key international markets such as Europe, Brazil and China.

Jeep’s U.S. sales through October are up 10 percent compared to the same time period a year ago to nearly 776,000 vehicles sold.

Next-gen Wrangler

Following the rollout of the Compass and Trackhawk, Jeep will close the year with the introduction of the next-generation of the brand’s icon — the Wrangler.

Manley said the company is debating on when to unveil the SUV, which he said this summer was expected to be unveiled in the first half of the year. He said the Wrangler “probably” won’t debut until the second half of the year, but stressed there is no delay in launching the vehicle.

Manley said the vehicle “is looking fantastic.” He declined to provide specifics on the all-new SUV, which is expected to begin arriving in showrooms at the end of the year.

Ralph Gilles, Fiat Chrysler head of global design, separately told The News that the Wrangler is always a challenge to redesign, as the vehicle has such a cult following.

“The Wrangler is a critical pilot light of the brand,” Gilles said. “Because of how much we’ve invested in Jeep, the Wrangler can remain true to itself. We’re not trying to make the Wrangler be what it’s not meant to be.”

Manley said a Jeep pickup based off the next-generation Wrangler is still slated for mid-2018.

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