Jeep Grand Wagoneer concept
DETROIT – America’s quintessential SUV brand, Jeep, wants to shift its reputation from gas guzzlers to “green” electrified vehicles to attract new buyers and maintain its off-road leadership amid the influx of new competitors.
Jeep is expected to be a key part of the growth and electrification plans of Stellantis, its new parent company formed earlier this year through the merger of Fiat Chrysler and French automaker Groupe PSA.
Currently, the brand only has three plug-in hybrid electric vehicles available outside of the US and a new PHEV of its flagship Wrangler SUV, a vehicle that will be sold globally, hitting national showrooms this 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 products in the works.”
Every new Jeep will offer some form of electrification, Meunier said. Those plans are expected to include fully electric vehicles, as well as hybrids and PHEVs that combine electrification with internal combustion engines. The vehicles will be sold under 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 stealth, sustainable rock climbing force,” said Jeep North America Vice President Jim Morrison during a press event for the Magneto. “It’s a zero-emission concept vehicle with Jeep 4×4 capability taken to the next level.”
It’s a task Meunier says Jeep is poised to accomplish. But reputation and products cannot be changed overnight. It will take years to make Jeep’s vision a reality.
“Jeep has been way behind on electrification,” said Michelle Krebs, an executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “It’s a huge and ambitious leap to think that they are 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 is driven by the tightening of carbon emission standards and fuel economy regulations around the world. Jeep is also facing pressure from upcoming competitors such as electric vehicle startup Rivian and General Motors, which is resurrecting its Hummer nameplate as new all-electric off-road trucks and SUVs.
“Electrification is a great opportunity for us,” Meunier said. “It will open up some new dimensions because we are going full throttle with it.”
The Jeep Wrangler Magneto Concept is a fully electric SUV based on a two-door 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Jeep is by far the best-selling Stellantis brand in America. Electric and hybrid Jeeps will help the automaker meet fuel economy requirements. The company is spending billions in environmental regulatory credits globally to avoid higher penalties for not complying with carbon emissions.
Regulatory benefits aside, Jeep executives say it makes sense for the outdoor brand to be more environmentally friendly. Electrification can also improve vehicle performance, specifically under acceleration and even in some off-road capabilities.
“The Jeep DNA is very primed 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 in showrooms 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 Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer full-size SUVs are also expected to hit dealership showrooms during the second half of the year. It is also launching a new V-8 version of the Wrangler.
The new products are expected to lead to “significant growth” for Jeep in the United States, Meunier said. “We have a very, very busy year,” he said. “It’s going to be the year of Jeep,” adding that this year is the brand’s 80th anniversary. Jeep launched special edition vehicles to commemorate the milestone late last year.
Meunier’s confidence comes despite growing competition in crossovers and SUVs. In particular, Ford Motor is resurrecting its Bronco SUV as a new “family” of vehicles, including a new crossover called the Bronco Sport and the 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. “Let’s get it right.”