New Compass aimed to drive Jeep growth globally

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

San Antonio, Texas — The next-generation 2017 Jeep Compass that’s expected in U.S. showrooms in the coming weeks was redesigned for the world market.

All-new 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk

Fiat Chrysler plans to sell the all-new compact SUV in more than 100 countries to capitalize on the projected 19 percent growth for pint-size utilities by 2020. The latest Compass replaces a previous-generation Compass on the road now, as well as the discontinued Jeep Patriot.

It will build the Compass in four plants; those bound for the U.S. will be made in Toluca, Mexico. A limited number will begin shipping to the U.S. soon, but the bigger launch is slated for late April or early May, according to Scott Tallon, director of the Jeep brand.

Jeep also will use the Mexico plant for exports to Europe. It already builds the Compass in China and Brazil, and will add a plant in India this spring. The automaker stopped building the old version of the Compass in December in Belvidere, Illinois.

The production shuffle is part of a larger manufacturing footprint change for Fiat Chrysler and some of its higher-volume vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee and the Ram pickup.

Jeep executives say the new Compass won’t have a hard time finding its way into driveways. The off-road capable SUV keeps its Jeep looks with a jazzed-up seven-slot grille and a resemblance to the Grand Cherokee. The roof is painted black on certain models.

In the U.S., the new Compass will be offered with a 2.4-liter Tigershark inline four-cylinder good for 180 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque. It’ll be available with six-speed manual transmissions in both front- and four-wheel drive versions; a six-speed automatic transmission in front-wheel drive versions; and a nine-speed automatic transmission in four-wheel drive models. Jeep says the nine-speed boosts acceleration and fuel economy over the current generation.

The Compass gets an estimated 31 miles per gallon on the highway for four-wheel drive versions equipped with a manual.

“Generally there was a compromise for capability with fuel efficiency. Not anymore,” Tallon said. “This Jeep Compass offers best-in-class four-by-four fuel efficiency.”

While Fiat Chrysler will sell diesel engine variants in other parts of the world, no diesel is planned for North America, Tallon said.

Offered in four trim levels, including a first-ever Compass Trailhawk edition, pricing begins at $20,995 plus $1,095 destination fee for the entry Sport-trim with front-wheel drive. The Latitude is expected to be the high-volume trim.

An estimated 70 percent of Compasses will be sold with four-wheel drive, Tallon said. Pricing for a Latitude four-wheel drive begins at $24,295, plus destination.

The Trailhawk edition — approved for off-roading and beginning at $28,595 plus destination — has skid plates and increased ride height. It can tow up to 2,000 pounds. Trailhawk versions represent 12 percent to 15 percent of Renegade and Cherokee volume, Jeep says.

The new Compass will be positioned between the subcompact Renegade and the larger Cherokee, Tallon says. He said the three SUVs will range from about $20,000 to $35,000 and will “help establish Jeep as an SUV shopping destination.”

The automaker is pushing to grow sales of Jeep globally to 2 million a year by 2018, up from 1.4 million last year.

Compact SUVs are the biggest-selling utilities in the world. About 6.3 million were sold last year. That number is expected to rise to 7.5 million by 2020, with most growth happening outside North America, Jeep brand boss Mike Manley said.

“(It’s a) very important segment for us, one that we need a really strong global vehicle and there’s no doubt in my mind that Compass is that vehicle,” he said.

Manley, however, would not discuss sales expectations for the Compass. “I very strongly believe in this vehicle,” he said. “I think it will more than adequately replace the two that are going out.”

Forecasters don’t believe that the new Compass will sell as many as the combined numbers of the discontinued Patriot and the existing Compass, nearly 216,000.

LMC Automotive estimates Jeep will sell 185,000 to 190,000 Compass SUVs in the U.S. annually starting in 2018 through 2020. Bill Rinna, senior manager of North American forecasts for the research firm, said in an email that the firm expects shares of individual models in the small-SUV market to shrink “as the market flattens and numerous new entries come into the market.”

The firm predicts SUV growth to continue, though, gaining 4 percentage points of share in the U.S. in the next few years.

But success for Jeep with the Compass is really about how it does globally, said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst for IHS Markit: “It’s as important for Jeep outside North America as it is inside North America.”

Jeep expects to grow SUV sales, as customers continue to reject midsize and compact cars.

Talon says Compass offers not only great capability, but value in the growing segment: “We think we have not just a competitive package, but something that’s going to be very compelling and be a significant volume contributor to the Jeep brand not only here in the U.S., but obviously across the globe.”

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