DETROIT — America’s quintessential SUV brand Jeep wants to change its reputation from gas guzzlers to “green” electrified vehicles to lure new buyers and maintain its off-road leadership amid an influx of new competitors.
Jeep is expected to be a key part of growth and electrification plans for Stellantis, its new parent company formed earlier this year through the merger of Fiat Chrysler and French automaker Groupe PSA.
The brand currently only has three plug-in hybrid electric vehicles available outside the U.S. and a new PHEV of its flagship Wrangler SUV, a vehicle that will be sold globally, arriving in domestic showrooms throughout spring. These vehicles are just the beginning of the brand’s plans, according to Jeep CEO Christian Meunier.
“Our vision is to be the greenest SUV brand in the world,” he told CNBC. “We have a very strong plan to deliver that through a lot of exciting product in the pipeline.”
Every new Jeep will offer some form of electrification, Meunier has said. Those plans are expected to include all-electric vehicles as well as hybrid and PHEVs that combine electrification with internal combustion engines. The vehicles will be sold with a new “4xe” badge, a play on the brand’s off-road reputation combined with electrification.
Jeep on Monday unveiled a new all-electric version of the Wrangler as a concept vehicle called the “Magneto.” It came months after a Grand Wagoneer concept that was a PHEV. Automakers use concept vehicles to gauge customer interest or show the future direction of a vehicle or brand.
“It’s a sustainable, stealthy, rock-climbing force,” Jeep North America vice president Jim Morrison said during a media event for the Magneto. “It’s a zero-emissions concept vehicle with Jeep 4×4 capability taken to the next level.”
It’s a task Meunier says Jeep is up to achieving. But reputations and products can’t be changed overnight. It will take years to make Jeep’s vision a reality.
“Jeep has been way behind in electrification,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “It’s a huge, ambitious leap to think they’re going to jump to the top of the heap. They have a lot of competition in that regard.”
Why electrify Jeep?
Why electrify Jeep after decades of producing gas-guzzling SUVs? It’s being driven by tightening carbon emissions standards and fuel economy regulations across the globe. Jeep also is facing pressure from upcoming competitors such as EV start-up Rivian and General Motors, which is resurrecting its Hummer nameplate as new off-road, all-electric SUVs and pickups.
“Electrification is a big opportunity for us,” Meunier said. “It will open some new dimensions because we’re full speed ahead with it.”
Jeep is by far the best-selling brand for Stellantis in the U.S. Electric and hybrid Jeeps will help the automaker meet fuel economy requirements. The company is spending billions on environmental regulatory credits globally to avoid heftier fines for not meeting carbon emissions.
Aside from the regulatory benefits, Jeep executives say it makes sense for the outdoors brand to be more environmentally friendly. Electrification also can boost the performance of the vehicles, specifically in acceleration and even some off-road capabilities.
“The DNA of Jeep is very prepared for electrification,” Meunier said. “The brand is one with nature by definition.”
The Wrangler 4xe PHEV is among a handful of new or redesigned vehicles coming out this year for Jeep, most of which feature traditional internal combustion engines.
Following the Wrangler 4xe into dealerships is a new three-row version of Jeep’s best-selling Grand Cherokee as well as a redesigned version of the two-row SUV, including a new PHEV version, later this year. Jeep’s long-awaited Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer full-size SUVs are expected to arrive in dealer showrooms during the second half of the year as well. It’s also launching a new V-8 version of the Wrangler.
The new products are expected to lead to “significant growth” for Jeep in the U.S., Meunier said. “We have a very, very busy year,” he said. “It’s going to be the year of Jeep,” adding it’s the brand’s 80th anniversary this year. Jeep released special-edition vehicles to commemorate the milestone at the end of last year.
Meunier’s confidence comes despite increasing competition in crossovers and SUVs. Most notably, Ford Motor is resurrecting its Bronco SUV as a new “family” of vehicles, including a new crossover called a Bronco Sport and upcoming, more traditional SUV models later this year.
“We’re going to have substantial growth,” Meunier said, citing sustainable growth focused on profit margins as well as building loyalty. “We’re going to do it right.”
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