Fiat is about to spend a lot of cash on a plant in Melfi, Italy, which will soon be building compact Jeep crossovers and Fiat 500Xs. The two vehicles are internationally important to both brands, and are built on Fiat’s flexible Small Wide platform; expect production to begin in 2014.
Fiat says it will invest about $1.3 billion to prepare the Melfi plant for production, which could rise to as much as 1600 vehicles a day with three shifts. The automaker takes care to note that vehicles built on the platform comply with U.S. regulatory standards, which means we are likely to see Melfi-made small urban Jeep crossovers and Fiat 500Xs in U.S. showrooms in the future. By the time the plant is ready for production, it will be capable of handling up to four different models on the same assembly line.
The small, Italian-built crossover may be an important part of the brand’s future global presence, but that’s not the only change in store for Jeep. The Compass and Patriot will receive a six-speed automatic soon, and the Patriot will survive at least through 2014. The Grand Cherokee is soon to be refreshed, with an available-in-the-U.S. diesel, eight-speed automatic, and interior revisions. The Jeep Liberty may morph into a crossover badged the Cherokee for the 2014 or 2015 model year with underpinnings also based on the Fiat platform. The Wrangler could get a beefed-up version of the eight-speed automatic when it’s redesigned around 2017, but before then we may see a three-row Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
As for Jeep’s upcoming small crossover and the mechanically related Fiat 500X, both will enter a segment (subcompact and compact crossovers) soon to be filled with everything from a Honda Fit-based crossover to the Buick Encore and the Mini Countryman. The Jeep will help the automaker meet stricter fuel economy standards; the front-drive 2013 Jeep Compass and 2013 Jeep Patriot top out at 23/30 mpg city/highway with a 2.0-liter I-4 and a five-speed manual transmission.