It was an eleventh-hour hail mary: with just days to go until the 2012 presidential election, the campaign for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney released an advertisement claiming that Jeep was moving all of its production to China. Unfortunately for Romney, the claim was debunked and the ad was later hailed as “the lie of the year.” Just eight weeks after the election was called for President Barack Obama, Jeep announced that it set an all-time global sales record. Sitting in his office inside the Jeep stand at the Detroit Auto Show, Jeep CEO Mike Manley brushed off the whole situation with a chuckle and some characteristic British sensibility: “yes, we’re doing quite well,” he said.
The 2014 Grand Cherokee is supposed to be a mid-cycle refresh but had much more time and resources poured into it. Are we going to see more intense mid-cycles from Jeep in the future?
It’s hard to think about new products for refreshes, of course, but our philosophy and approach [that we displayed with the Grand Cherokee] will continue into the future. The scope of the philosophy may be different, but it’s safe to say that it’s embedded in Jeep.
You've targeted a 15 percent take rate for the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. Can you do it--and if you do, can we see more Jeep diesels?
I was reading a bit of the blogs last night and there’s been a really good response to the diesels, which is nice. It’s difficult to forecast take rates, but I’m confident. We have a good structure: we have the ability to put diesel technology in all of our Jeeps. It gives us the ability to bring more diesel into the range if we see fit.
With the Grand Cherokee, we’re going to get it in the market and see what happens. But the initial reaction and feedback were good.
A Wrangler Diesel? Please?
It’s a potentially good idea. There’s certainly a lot of interest in a Wrangler diesel. But it’s more likely we’d put one in the next generation. If the Grand Cherokee diesel is successful--and it will be successful--it’ll raise the question of “what next?”
In the meantime, let’s talk about three rows. There’s been talk for a while about a three-row Jeep, and the Grand Cherokee obviously outsells the Dodge Durango. Will the Grand Wagoneer finally see the light of day?
It will--it’s very much alive. There’s definitely room for a three-row model within the range, and I’d like to pursue it as soon as possible. We won’t see anything by 2015, but it’s still alive--there’s certainly a lot of internal interest about it.
With that in mind, is it possible that we’re going to see the Jeep brand stretched thin with the Liberty potentially becoming a soft-roader, the Wrangler and Grand Cherokee being the most capable ones, and the Grand Wagoneer serving as a family hauler?
I don’t know why you’d call the next Liberty a soft-roader, because it won’t be. We promise that there’ll be a trail-rated, highly competent off-road version. Off-road enthusiasts will definitely not be disappointed about this car.
Yes, there’s obviously an emergence on the compact end of the range, but the Grand Wagoneer is a place we’ve been before--it’s a viable place for us to be. We have a clear understanding of the brand and it’s attributes.
Sales of the Mopar Wrangler Pickup conversion kit have been pretty good--
--very good. The demand was much higher than we expected.
High enough to get Jeep thinking about a Jeep pickup truck?
We’re thinking about it, yes, but not before the next-generation Wrangler.
So a Jeep pickup wouldn’t be something else--a unibody pickup, perhaps?
Listen: we already have a commercial truck brand, where there are commercial businesses and markets that use these trucks. We’re a different brand--I don’t like the term “lifestyle brand”--so we can do things differently. It would be more appropriate for a Jeep pickup to come off the Wrangler platform, because we still want the pickup to have that Jeep capability. Obviously, the Wrangler provides more capability than any other model.
I know that we’ve done different versions of pickup trucks in the past, but a Wrangler-based pickup is the more interesting option.
Strangely worded political ads aside, what do you see of Jeep’s future in China?
Jeep will do very well in China. We’re already doing well as an import brand, and we’re growing significantly faster than the Chinese market as a whole. The brand awareness is very high, and we already have 200 Jeep stores. There’s no doubt that we’ll do well in China, but to do well in China, you need to localize your production. Whether that’s in two years time or whenever, it’s still very important.
Congratulations again on your success.