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Why 2021 could be make or break for Jeep

Jeep’s iconic Wrangler and Grand Cherokee make up the bulk of the brand’s sales.

Jeep is no stranger to doing things the hard way. The brand is synonymous for building rugged off-roaders that tackle the most challenging trails after all.

But the biggest challenge for the American brand will be to turn around a sales decline approaching a decade. In 2020, the brand is on course to sell less than 6000 new vehicles, compared to more than 30,000 it sold as recently as 2014.

Such a dramatic and rapid sales drop is hard to turn around and suggests the brand has failed to retain its customers off the back of reliability and aftersales problems that have dogged the company in recent years.

To the company’s credit, recently-installed Fiat-Chrysler Australia boss, Kevin Flynn, has acknowledged these problems and vowed to fix them to win back the trust of customers - with the ambitious goal of making Jeep a top 10 selling brand.

“With the product portfolio that will come in the future, and us fixing our right place and repairing the gap, there’s this wonderful opportunity for us,” Flynn said earlier this year.

“It’s not overnight, it’s a build, and if we get there then we must be incredibly respectful of the customers and previous owners that have trusted us again.”

While that sounds logical the reality remains that Jeep faces a steep and rocky uphill journey to turn around its fortunes in Australia.

Stellantis is coming

Jeep Virtual Showroom

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Peugeot-Citroen parent company, PSA Group, are putting the finishing touches on a merger that will make it the fourth-largest car company in the world. Jeep would be a centrepiece of the new conglomerate thanks to booming SUV sales in key markets around the world.

However, it remains to be seen how important right-hand drive and, in particular, a relatively small market like Australia would be to this new powerhouse. Stellantis will need to focus on ensuring it has the right model mix and market coverage around the world. Hopefully the global management views right-hand drive and Australia with more optimism than General Motors had for Holden.

Can the Gladiator fight its way ahead?

If there’s one model in the line-up that has potential to make 2021 a memorable year for Jeep, it’s the Gladiator. The adventurous dual-cab ute has arrived at a time when people are buying this kind of vehicle in record numbers.

So far in 2020, it’s only added around 500 sales, but as an all-new model those sales are all incremental. While the top-heavy line-up (the range kicks off at $75k) is never going to sell in big volume, adding new models and more sales is the first step in getting back to the kind of numbers Mr Flynn wants Jeep to do.

The challenge for the Gladiator will be luring buyers from the likes of the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara without a diesel engine.

Disappointingly for Jeep Australia’s hopes of selling more Gladiators in this diesel-heavy market, the company has said the 194kW/599Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel isn’t coming in right-hand drive.

The new Grand Cherokee - eventually

Undoubtedly the key to Jeep’s hopes of being a serious player again rest on the shoulders of the all-new Grand Cherokee. The large SUV was the reason why the brand was riding high five years ago, as families flocked to this capable but more refined off-roader.

However, a string of recalls for the current model stymied any hope that Jeep could retain that audience and keep them in the Jeep family. So, this new model needs to be impressive, both on- and off-road, and reliable.

Early reports are promising, with the new Grand Cherokee reportedly dropping its aging underpinnings that date back to Daimler’s Chrysler ownership, instead using the same platform as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio as the basis.

While that sounds promising, the catch is it’s not expected to arrive until the final quarter of 2021, so it’s full impact won’t be known until the following year.

New look Compass, but no Grand Wagoneer

Another problem for Jeep is that its sales are concentrated primarily on two models – the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler – with the pair making up about 70 per cent of the brand’s overall sales in 2020 so far.

A facelifted Compass is on the way, but that small SUV has struggled to gain traction in a highly-competitive marketplace. Jeep has sold only 640 Compass in 2020 (year-to-date November), while the likes of the Mazda CX-30 and Hyundai Kona have clocked more than 10,000. The Compass has even been out-sold by the likes of the MG ZS (4484) and Haval H2 (1740 sales); both newer models from less-established brands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there’s any back-up on the way. The Grand Wagoneer, a long-awaited seven-seater that sits above the Grand Cherokee, is set to arrive in the US in 2021, but there’s been no confirmation that it will be built in right-hand drive. It’s believed to be based on the same underpinnings as the Ram 1500 ute, which is factory-produced in left-hand-drive only (but converted locally by Walkinshaw Automotive Group, which could ultimately be an option for Jeep Australia if it really wants the big SUV here).

If Jeep is to enjoy a successful 2021 and beyond, and stand any chance of achieving its goal of making the top 10 in the sales charts, it will likely need an expanded model range and that will require support from the brand’s global management.