Jeep owner Stellantis is willing to ditch the Cherokee name, CEO says


The Jeep owner’s boss said he is willing to remove the Cherokee name from the vehicles after recent criticism from the Native American tribal leader.

Carlos Tavares, Executive Director of the recently formed Stellantis STLA -2.56%

NV said the company was in dialogue with the Cherokee Nation about the use of the name. Jeep has two models, the Cherokee compact sport utility vehicle and the larger Grand Cherokee, which it sells in the US and beyond.

When asked in an interview if he would be willing to change the Jeep Cherokee name if pushed, Mr. Tavares said: “We are ready to go anywhere, to the point where we decide with the right people and without intermediaries “.

“At this stage, I don’t know if there is a real problem. But if there is one, well, of course we will solve it, ”Tavares said, adding that he did not personally participate in the talks.

The Cherokee name debate is one of the issues facing Tavares, who took control of Stellantis when it was formed earlier this year from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Peugeot maker PSA. In Wednesday’s interview, Tavares also discussed whether to cut down the company’s 14 brands, make Fiat plants more competitive and his plan to stay with China.

Jeep has two models, the Cherokee compact SUV and the larger Grand Cherokee, which it sells in the US and beyond.


Photo:

FCA / TNS / ABACAPRESS / Reuters

The Cherokee Nation is the largest Native American tribe in the US, with some 370,000 members, and Jeep has sold millions of vehicles under their name. The car brand extended its use of the Cherokee name to a compact SUV, a smaller version of the Grand Cherokee, in 2013.

The leader of the Cherokee Nation recently said that he would like Jeep to stop using his tribe’s name on its SUVs. Chuck Hoskin Jr., Cherokee Nation chief executive officer, said he believed Jeep meant well, but that it “does not honor us by having our name taped to the side of a car,” according to a statement first delivered to Car and Conductor. In the past week.

Chief Hoskin could not immediately be reached for comment.


“We are not honored to have our name taped to the side of a car.”


– Chuck Hoskin Jr., chief chief of the Cherokee Nation

Tavares’ comments stem from widespread recognition of racial and social injustice in the United States that was sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend. last year. In December, the Cleveland Indians decided to remove the baseball team’s lifelong nickname after fans and Native American groups criticized it as racist. The NFL’s Washington football team has removed a name that had been viewed as a racial slur.

Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs are among the brand’s best-sellers in the US, accounting for 43% of Jeep sales in its largest market, according to company figures. Stellantis is rolling out a long-awaited redesign of the Grand Cherokee later this year.

Tavares said the auto industry’s practice of naming cars after Native American tribes was a mark of respect.

“I don’t see anything that could be negative here. I think it’s just a matter of expressing our creative passion, our artistic abilities, ”said Tavares.

The Jeep brand stands alongside profit makers like Ram in the US and Peugeot in Europe. But the company’s extensive portfolio of 14 brands also includes some that will need to prove themselves, Tavares said.

Tavares said he has asked each of his brand managers to work on a 10-year plan to develop greater long-term visibility in product planning.

“I tell them, ‘Look guys, I’m going to give you a chance. You need to convince me, you, the CEO of the brand, that you have a vision, ‘”Tavares said.

After various recovery efforts, Fiat Chrysler’s Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands have not made any significant comebacks in recent years. The Fiat brand struggles with aging models and weak sales, which has caused an overcapacity problem at the company’s Italian factories.

Even the famous Chrysler brand has faded in recent years, and it now sells just three models compared to six it had a decade ago. The brand’s sales in the United States have also dropped to a third of their volume in 2015, according to company figures.

On the PSA side, the DS brand, which focuses on high-end sedans and SUVs, increased its market share last year, but remains far behind some of its German competitors.

“After giving them a chance to fail, we must also be fair,” Tavares said. “If the rest of the company is doing the right thing and there is a part of the company that is taking everyone down, we will have to take that into account.”

The Portuguese executive built his reputation in the automotive industry as an expert on change. Peugeot was losing money when it hired Tavares in 2013. Since then, the French automaker has gone from losing € 5 billion, equivalent to about $ 6 billion, in 2012 to becoming one of the world’s leading automakers. most profitable mass market in the industry. . Last year it reported a net profit of 2.17 billion euros, or approximately 2.62 billion dollars, with an adjusted operating margin of 7.1% in its core automotive business.

This time around, Tavares has a longer to-do list, including integrating the two companies’ European businesses and reducing losses in China.

In Europe, Mr. Tavares has been visiting Fiat Chrysler factories, including an Alfa Romeo facility 80 miles south of Rome, and has encouraged them to compare their performance to PSA plants. Additionally, employees from Fiat Chrysler’s Fiat factory in Mirafiori, Italy, visited PSA’s Citroën plant in Madrid, and Tavares said they were surprised by the non-labor cost savings they saw.

The auto executive said the new company could meet its cost-saving targets in Europe without closing factories.

When asked what lessons he had learned from the chip shortage that has left car plants idle around the world, Tavares said that large suppliers were not transmitting the signals they were receiving about the looming crisis. “We were not protected,” he said. “That is a clear lesson learned.”

Chinese regulators are closely watching Tesla’s operations after recent videos on social media appear to show a Model 3 battery fire and malfunctioning vehicles. WSJ explains how potential quality issues with Tesla cars could threaten the electric vehicle maker’s meteoric rise. Photo Illustration: Michelle Inez Simon

Tavares said the industry-wide shift toward electrification will continue to depend on government subsidies and other financial incentives for buyers until automakers figure out how to cut production costs in the next few years.

“If we propose electric vehicles that are extremely efficient but that nobody can buy because they are expensive, what sense does it make from an environmental perspective?” he said.

In China, the combined sales of Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler accounted for less than 1% of a market that sold 20 million vehicles last year, according to industry data. Fiat Chrysler has long struggled to make a profit in the world’s largest auto market, while the French automaker sold just 45,965 vehicles in China last year, continuing a rapid, multi-year decline.

Tavares said Stellantis is not considering exiting China, eliminating an option that it said was still on the table when the company went public in New York earlier this year.

“We cannot be far from the largest market in the world,” he said.

Write to Nick Kostov at [email protected] and Nora Naughton at [email protected]

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