By Jay Nagley
When Jeep came to the UK market in 1993, it hit the bull’s-eye. A surprisingly neatly-styled Cherokee offered a perfect alternative to buyers worried about the Land Rover Discovery’s reputation at the time for big repair bills. The brand had an even longer heritage than Land Rover and the stylish black-and-white advertising campaign perfectly captured the spirit of the American outdoors.
Jay Nagley was a market analyst at Porsche Cars GB before spending the past 13 years as the head of Redspy Automotive, his own analysis and forecasting consultancy.
Huge demand and fat margins made Jeep one of the most sought-after franchises in the UK and the future looked bright – SUV sales increased every year, so Jeep only had to maintain its share of UK off-road sales to be assured of steady growth. Yet within a decade, its biggest UK dealer saw the future model plan and resigned the franchise. Within two decades, it had shrunk to the point where it barely seems viable in the UK.
Meanwhile, Chrysler has followed a similar trajectory. Never fashionable in the way Jeep was, the Voyager was nevertheless a very credible MPV. It also sold plenty of Neon saloons – dreadful cars, but cheap as chips and compelling to the sort of buyer who would once have bought a Lada. Now, Chrysler mostly tries (and fails) to sell rebadged Lancias.
♦ Read 'Chrysler Jeep: Still in deep water' from AM magazine here.
What went wrong?
So where did it all go wrong? In Jeep’s case, the 1990s Cherokee was a bit of a happy accident. Jeep had been under the control of Renault in the 1980s, and rumour has it that the Cherokee’s crisp, sharp-edged styling was done in Europe (hence its surprisingly compact dimensions).
Subsequent Chrysler-designed Cherokees never had the same visual appeal – the 1997 model was a particular eyesore. At the top of the range, the Grand Cherokee 5.7 V8 looked a great-value alternative to the Mark II Range Rover (the Metrocab look-alike). Plenty of well-heeled enthusiasts bought a Porsche 911 and a Grand Cherokee as the ideal pairing. However, once the Mark III Range Rover appeared, it was game over.
Parent brand Chrysler suffered from the fact that the MPV market declined, and what was left of it was hoovered up by the 2006 Galaxy/S-Max. It had a brief moment of glory with the 300C, which was an inspired combination of great styling, Mercedes chassis and low prices. However, the moment passed, and the current 300C is just another overpriced American wannabe.
Its other fashion cars had the lifespan of a fruit-fly: the PT Cruiser was fashionable for a year or so, the Crossfire Coupé for a month or two. All the American models that came after them were completely irrelevant – culminating in the infamous 2009 Dodge Avenger offer of “Buy one, get one free”.