JEEP is hoping to slow its dramatic sales slide within months – but there’s more pain to come as the brand undergoes a long road to regain the trust and attention of new-car buyers.
Speaking at the launch of the updated Grand Cherokee, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia chief Steve Zanlunghi told Wheels he expected to finally report sales growth late in 2017.
“Probably either at the very end of this year or first quarter next year [sales will start increasing] when we have the Compass back in our line-up,” he said.
Zanlunghi highlighted the Compass small SUV as crucial to kicking sales in the right direction, however that car doesn’t arrive until December.
“It’s a key piece that’s missing,” said Zanlunghi of the car that will compete with the likes of the Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.
Late 2017 is also the time the brand’s fastest ever hero car – the 527kW Grand Cherokee Trackhawk – lands in Australia, providing a crucial image machine.
“Public interest in the Trackhawk has been incredible – barely a day goes by when I’m not asked if it’s coming,” said Zanlunghi of a car he claims will “shatter performance SUV benchmarks”.
But Zanlunghi admits the Jeep turnaround won’t happen overnight.
“It’s difficult to change customer perception, that takes time, for sure, but I think we’ve taken a lot of the right steps to put us on a really good path.”
Key to the new Jeep message is a five-year “There & Back Guarantee”, which includes factory warranty protection, capped price servicing and roadside assistance.
However, that’s only one component of a plan that involves improving overall customer service and refreshing the model range.
“We never under any circumstance thought that this was going to be some type of silver bullet,” Zanlunghi says of the five-year warranty, adding that it is designed to demonstrate faith in the product.
“It’s a long term play, where it’s a fundamental part of the Jeep business in Australia.”
New product is also key.
As well as the Compass and Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, Jeep is readying an all-new Wrangler, the car that is at the core of the Jeep brand.
Due in 2018, the new Wrangler will boast an aluminium-intensive structure and an evolution of the iconic styling that has defined the model.
The delayed new generation Grand Cherokee is also due around 2019.
Arguably the most important new models are the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, at least one of which will offer a seven-seat layout and Range Rover-rivalling luxury.
While the Wagoneer hasn’t been confirmed for Australia yet – Jeep is still working on a business case for right-hand drive production – it’s odds-on to flesh out the expanding line-up from about 2019.