Wrangler is aimed at reinforcing Jeep’s off-road credentials
FCA brand thinks new flagship 4×4 can raise profile in Europe and reverse falling sales
The arrival of the all-new Jeep Wrangler in the UK in November will act as a halo for the brand and underpin a sales push built on its go-anywhere reputation, according to new managing director Arnaud Leclerc.
While Jeep sales have grown substantially in recent years – from 231,701 in 2009 to 1,388,208 last year – the firm has been slammed for posting a slight drop in sales in 2017, despite the market for SUVs booming around the world.
The most stinging criticism of that sales performance came from FCA boss Sergio Marchionne, who at the turn of this year described the efforts of Jeep’s European team as “lousy”. Leclerc was appointed to head Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ UK arm from the PSA Group in January.
“It is true that 2016 and 2017 were hard for us, but 2018 has potential,” said Leclerc. “We have the right products for the market now and the prospect of more to come.
“The Wrangler is an icon and underpins Jeep’s authenticity as one of very few brands that gives every car it sells genuine off-road ability. Other SUV brands are going in other directions, but let’s say that Jeep will never make a coupé. Our heart is in 4×4.”
The Wrangler, a rival for the Land Rover Defender, will be sold in two and four-door variants. Emphasising its modern makeover, engine options will include a 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor that uses a twin-scroll turbocharger and mild-hybrid technology. Other units include a 3.6 petrol and 3.0 diesel.
Like its predecessors, the new Wrangler is based on a body-on-frame chassis design. It features five-link suspension, while the roll centre height has been raised and spring rates retuned to boost the vehicle’s off-road abilities and improve ride quality.
“The potential of that size and price of car is enormous,” he said. “It is true that the market is very crowded now, and there is a lot of competition, but that is why having a halo product like the Wrangler is so important. It embodies all the qualities of our brand and demonstrates the spirit of what our cars can give to customers.
“But the potential for Jeep is there: we have a brand that is famous and we have high-quality new products. The missing ingredient is awareness and that is something that can be fixed when it is underpinned by the other two.”
Abarth – “The UK is the biggest market for Abarth in the world, even beating Italy, but there is so much more potential. We need to emphasise the difference from the standard cars (nobody can compare a Fiat 500 with an Abarth 595) and to grow awareness of what the brand is about. Customers know how special our cars are, but we need to let others know too.”
Alfa Romeo – “The Giulia and Stelvio are world-class cars in the opinion of the press, not just us. Sales are going well, but there is room for more. We are at a point where Alfa has the products to match its brand again. What I need now is awareness of those facts. Not everyone knows how far we’ve come or even perhaps that we make an SUV. That will change.”
Fiat – “No other car has the longevity of appeal of the 500. It is as fresh as the day it was launched, and expresses our Italian values of fashion and freshness perfectly. Put it in a street and people will stop to look at it. One car does not make a brand, but there’s no brand that wouldn’t want a car like the 500, and we have a family of vehicles alongside it – from the X, L, L MPW and C to the 124, Tipo, Punto and Panda.”