Jeep brought 226 Grand Cherokees and lots of dealers to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. on Thursday. No -- Chrysler is not forcing dealers to go through basic, and with school out for summer, the academy was pretty much dead calm, with nary a "What's your major malfunction, maggot?" echoing off of the granite walls of Old Maine.
The Auburn Hills, Mich. automaker brought the dealers to West Point so each of them could drive one of the all-new 2011 Grand Cherokees back to their home barracks.
Thomas Barenboim, president of Clark Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge near Boston -- a dealer who has been a major voice on the Chrysler dealer council for years -- tells Marketing Daily that the issue is the economy, not the brand. "I'm excited about the future because it's all about product, and there's pent-up demand." He also says dealers are very happy about the new campaign for Grand Cherokee -- "The things we make, make us," which was done by the Portland, Ore.-based Wieden + Kennedy.
"It speaks to quality, first, to styling, fit and finish. Dealers love the new creative; it's the most well-received creative in 20 years in my view."
He says dealers who have seen the vehicle think Jeep got it right because of its wider stance, interior and onboard tech, such as a chassis that adjusts several inches up and down to handle different conditions and terrain. "It's a 12 on a 10 scale; it needed a more cat-like stance, more Euro styling, which I like. The design cues are different enough but not so different that you don't know it's a Jeep," he says.
Jim Morrison, head of Jeep product marketing, told gathered reporters that the company is moving out of the red. "We are making money again," he said, adding that the company made $140 million in the first quarter. "We are selling more vehicles and making more money and doing it without new product." He said that by the end of the year the Jeep lineup will be refreshed and will offer low MSRP entry versions of current models. The SportX variations of Patriot and Compass start at $15,995, per Morrison.
He says the Grand Cherokee has a Selec-Terrain program that lets drivers select among surfaces like snow, rock, or mud and sand, and that it can also be bought in a "Trail Rated" version, the nomenclature the company uses to imply that the vehicle can handle the Rubicon Trail -- a feat the brand build its reputation on back when Bob Lutz ran Chrysler. "One hundred percent of our owners go off-road," said Morrison. "At least in their minds."
Another change: Jeep will no longer put the Hemi name on vehicles even if they have a Hemi engine under the hood. Overt Hemi branding will be reserved for Dodge and Dodge Ram. "On Jeep, the Hemi name will only be on the engine valve cover," he said. "It's a brand thing really; let Dodge and Ram play with that. I don't even know how to spell Dodge," he joked.