At 80, Jeep sets new goals: Beat Bronco, add EVs, maybe go underwater

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
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The saying goes you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but as Jeep turns 80, the adventure brand of Stellantis NV is looking to make some of its biggest moves yet.

On the docket over the next 10-plus years, Jeep CEO Christian Meunier says, is electrifying the lineup to become the world's greenest SUV brand with a fully battery-electric model in each segment by 2025, adding autonomous capabilities and maybe even going fully underwater. It's got some new competition in Ford Motor Co.'s Bronco, too, but Jeep plans to stay on top in the off-road market.

"Competition is great," Meunier said this week during a media roundtable. "There is a craving for freedom to make you go anywhere. I think Bronco is going to be a good competitor, a solid competitor, we don’t deny that. At the same time, it puts us on our toes. It forces us to be better and better and better."

Christian Meunier is Jeep's CEO.

Jeep has come a long way since the federal government ordered up general purpose military vehicles from Willys-Overland Motors in 1941 for World War II. It has pioneered 4x4 capabilities, launched the first premium and compact SUVs, and appealed to customers and corporations around the globe.

In response to the Bronco alone, Jeep has introduced the 2021 Wrangler Rubicon 392, the first factory-built Wrangler SUV with a V-8 in nearly 40 years. This week at the Chicago Auto Show, Jeep is showing the Wrangler Xtreme Recon package, its response to the Bronco's off-road Sasquatch package.

"There are a lot of things that are coming that are in the pipeline," Meunier added. "We are going to keep our king of the hill position, for sure."

In terms of what that could look like, Jeep shared an extended teaser of its vision of the future from last week's "EV Day" announcing Stellantis will invest roughly $35.5 billion into EVs by 2025. Jeep forecasts 70% of sales will be electrified by then, including hybrid and mild hybrid vehicles — a prediction Meunier said could be on the low side given EVs' instant torque and quiet travel.

"Electrification ... is a compliance issue, obviously," he said. "But we think it has the opportunity to make our product even more exciting, even more capable and provide our community even better product in the future, obviously while respecting the planet."

It also opens up design opportunities. Without the engine block and its accessories, Jeep will be able to offer "frunk" front storage space and open up the back of the vehicle without the concern of tailpipe emissions, said Mark Allen, director of Jeep exterior design.

"The only important piece is the power goes to all four wheels," Allen said. "Going into electric, we’ll have greater control and be able to send torque to individual wheels that we can't do now with a single power source. We can have up to four power sources — one for each wheel, even."

In the teaser, Jeep lists new technologies by 2025 like biometric facial recognition to unlock the vehicle, dynamic tire pressure for off-roading adventures, a Jeep multi-power port, peer-to-peer charging and the ability to connect the vehicle with a drone, a request Meunier said the brand has received from customers.

In the jump to 2030, the teaser shows autonomous off-road capabilities, remote vehicle tracking and the ability to lie flat in the Jeep while stargazing through a panoramic sunroof as the vehicle drives itself.

"What they have shown us so far is they are logically moving the DNA of the brand into the electric space," said Stephanie Brinley, IHS Markit Ltd.'s principal autos analyst for the Americas. "It appears to be a fairly natural progression for Jeep. It always comes down to the execution."

The very end of the teaser depicts a fictionalized clip of a Wrangler completely underwater.

Jeep's teaser for the future includes a completely submerged Wrangler underwater, a wink toward what could be to come in the far-off future, Jeep CEO Christian Meunier said.

"There is a little wink we have at the end, which is probably post-2030, but I know a lot of enthusiasts and a lot of our communities are requesting it," Meunier said of the clip. "There are some crazy, very amazing people in the Jeep community who do that type of thing already with an ICE, so you can imagine with a battery car what it would be."

The momentum for that vision is there, executives say. Jeep's U.S. sales were up 14% in the second quarter for its second-best quarter ever for retail sales. It has launched the new three-row Grand Cherokee L SUV. The new full-size Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer will begin deliveries in the coming weeks. And the next-generation two-row Grand Cherokee will make its in-person debut next month at the New York Auto Show with a 4xe plug-in hybrid option.

Jeep shared an image of the new two-row 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe plug-in hybrid. The vehicle officially will make its debut at the 2021 New York International Auto Show next month.

The midsize Gladiator truck just had its best quarter ever while Wrangler's three-month retail sales were its best yet. The 4xe plug-in hybrid version outpaced Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius Prime as the country's top-selling plug-in hybrid for the quarter with two-and-a-half months of deliveries, according to Jeep.

Toyota sold 11,863 Prius Prime cars over the three months. Jeep did not separate out the 4xe's sales from the 69,020 Wranglers it sold during the quarter, but said the 4xe is sold out for the year.

Reports and consumers, however, have observed leases for the 4xe are sometimes less than the non-electrified Wrangler. Offers listed online show customers can lease a traditional Wrangler for $349 per month and a 4xe for $306 per month, despite the 4xe's sticker price being more than $20,000 higher.

The 2022 Jeep Wrangler 4xe is standard at about $49,000; this Sahara model is loaded to $56,000.

Jeep isn't incentivizing the 4xe or any Wrangler, said Jim Morrison, vice president of the Jeep brand in North America. About 40% of owners lease, Meunier said. The pricing is a result of the 60% residual value of the Wrangler and the $7,500 rebate offered by the federal government for electrified vehicles, Morrison said.

"That's just the natural outcome of a really strong residual value that's driving that payment," he said. "The car is the star. The Jeep is driving those payments. It shows the strength of Wrangler as well as 4xe."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

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