Car dealer tells Jeep: “Give us more”

CHICAGO – Jim Morrison gets behind the wheel of a plug-in hybrid-electric Jeep Wrangler 4xe, eager to show off his off-road driving, something outdoor users would appreciate.

But he’s indoors at the Chicago Auto Show, navigating a course with simulated terrain characteristics such as steep slopes and angled banks.

During the ups and downs, Morrison, the head of Stellanti’s Jeep brand, talks to Wards about the brand’s first electrified vehicle, Jeep owners’ reaction to it, what he hears from dealers and how he sees a new competitor on the block: Ford Bronco, which gives the Jeep a run for its money.

Here is an edited version of the discussion:

Departments: What do retailers say to you nowadays?

Morrison: “Give us more.” We just had our best Jeep sales and market share ever. Retailers work really hard to deliver that kind of results.

We’ve had many updates to the lineup, starting with the new Grand Cherokee. For the first time ever, we have a 3-row Grand Cherokee. A lot happens with Wrangler. And then there is the addition of Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer (which tops the range with a base price of $ 107,995).

Retailers are looking for more and more. But they do a good job of taking care of our customers. There are more orders sold than ever before. The works work overtime to keep up.

Departments: Jeep owners are another race. How receptive are they to a plug-in electric hybrid Wrangler?

Morrison: Electrification has been well accepted by the Jeep community. Wrangler 4xe (picture above) is now about a quarter of the Wrangler mix. It is the best-selling plug-in hybrid in America. Jeep customers want to upgrade performance. Wrangler 4xe did it for them. This vehicle delivers 470 lb.-ft. (637 Nm) torque and instant torque.

What we are doing now is a good illustration. We’re going up this 28 feet. (8.5 m), 45-degree slope in fully electric position. It delivers incredible performance and capacity completely silently. No one else can deliver this type of experience.

Departments: In recent years, Jeep has attracted attention as a robust vehicle that can do fantastic off-road driving, such as climbing like a mountain goat. But its ride was not the greatest. It’s evened out, right?

Morrison: It certainly has. Over the years, it came to compromise with fantastic four-wheel drive. We changed that with the latest generation of Grand Cherokee. We took it to the next level with the latest Grand Cherokee with air suspension and lower center of gravity. It really is improved driving quality.

Departments: Your demographics range from terrain enthusiasts, who remove doors and roofs, to people who like creature comforts. Is it difficult to get in touch with such a wide audience?

Morrison: That is it, but there is a common denominator. It’s that sense of adventure. Every Jeep owner has it, whether they are a Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, Gladiator or Compass customer.

Departments: Are sales better in snow belt areas than elsewhere?

Morrison: Traditionally, yes. Our strongest volume market is northeast. New York loves the Grand Cherokees. It’s the No. 1 selling SUV there. It’s amazing in the snow and it appeals to people in New York with exclusive flavors.

But we are growing elsewhere as we continue to drive 4×2. People in Florida may not need 4-wheel drive, but they love the Jeep.

Departments: How much is the new Ford Bronco a competitor these days?

Morrison: We’ve just had the best January ever for Wrangler sales. It is very fun to attract new customers. Last year, we added a 470-hp V-8 engine to a Wrangler for the first time. Now we have the plug-in. We continue to do what our customers have asked for and we see positive results.

Departments: There’s an old saying: Keep one eye on the sky for hawks and the other eye on the ground for rattlesnakes. Do you keep an eye on Bronco?

Morrison: Competition is good.

Steve Finlay is a retired WardsAuto senior editor. He can be reached at [email protected].

jeep track chicago auto show.jpg

Jeep simulated terrain at the Chicago Auto Show.

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