Jeep’s plan to go from gas-guzzling SUVs to ‘inexperienced’ off-road EVs
Jeep Grand Wagoneer Concept
DETROIT – America’s quintessential SUV brand, Jeep, seeks to change its reputation from gas guzzlers to “green” electric vehicles to attract new buyers and maintain its off-road leadership amid the influx of new competitors.
Jeep is expected to be an integral part of growth and electrification plans for Stellantis, the new parent company formed earlier this year through the merger of Fiat Chrysler and French automaker Groupe PSA.
The brand currently only has three plug-in hybrid electric vehicles outside of the U.S. and one new PHEV of their flagship Wrangler SUV, a vehicle that will be sold worldwide and hit domestic showrooms this spring. According to Jeep CEO Christian Meunier, these vehicles are just the beginning of the brand’s plans.
“Our vision is to be the greenest SUV brand in the world,” he told CNBC. “We have a very strong plan to do this with a lot of exciting products in the pipeline.”
Every new jeep will offer some form of electrification, Meunier said. These plans are expected to include all-electric vehicles, as well as hybrid and PHEVs that combine electrification with internal combustion engines. The vehicles are sold with a new “4xe” badge, a game for the brand’s off-road reputation combined with electrification.
Jeep unveiled a new all-electric version of the Wrangler as a concept vehicle called the “Magneto” on Monday. It came months after a Grand Wagoneer concept that was a PHEV. Automakers use concept vehicles to measure customer interest or to point out the future direction of a vehicle or brand.
“It’s a sustainable, stealthy climbing group,” said Jim Morrison, vice president of Jeep North America, during a media event for the Magneto. “It’s a zero-emission concept vehicle with Jeep 4×4 capability that is being taken to the next level.”
It is a task that Meunier has to fulfill, according to Jeep. But reputations and products cannot be changed overnight. It will be years before Jeep’s vision becomes a reality.
“Jeep has lagged far behind in electrification,” said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “It’s a big, ambitious leap to think that they will jump to the top of the pile. They have a lot of competition in that regard.”
Why electrify Jeep?
Why electrify the jeep after decades of manufacturing gas-guzzling SUVs? It is being driven by tightening CO2 emission standards and fuel consumption regulations around the world. Jeep is also being pressured by emerging competitors like EV start-up Rivian and General Motors, who are reviving their Hummer nameplate as new all-electric off-road SUVs and pickups.
“Electrification is a great opportunity for us,” said Meunier. “It will open up some new dimensions because we are in full swing with it.”
The Jeep Wrangler Magneto concept is an all-electric SUV based on a 2020 two-door Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Jeep is by far the best-selling brand for Stellantis in the United States. Electric and hybrid jeeps help automakers meet fuel consumption requirements. The company spends billions worldwide on environmental regulations to avoid higher fines for non-compliance with CO2 emissions.
Regulatory benefits aside, Jeep executives think it makes sense for the brand to be greener outdoors. Electrification can also increase the performance of vehicles, especially when it comes to acceleration and even some off-road capabilities.
“The Jeep’s DNA is very well prepared for electrification,” said Meunier. “The brand is by definition one with nature.”
The Wrangler 4xe PHEV is one of a handful of new or redesigned vehicles to hit the market for the Jeep this year. Most of them are equipped with traditional internal combustion engines.
After the Wrangler 4xe in dealerships, there’s a new three-row version of Jeep’s best-selling Grand Cherokee, as well as a revamped version of the two-row SUV, including a new PHEV version, later this year. Jeep’s long-awaited full-size Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs are also expected to hit dealerships in the second half of the year. A new V-8 version of the Wrangler will also be introduced.
The new products are expected to lead to “significant growth” for Jeep in the US, Meunier said. “We have had a very, very busy year,” he said. “It’s going to be the year of the Jeep,” it adds, marking the brand’s 80th anniversary this year. Jeep released special vehicles late last year to commemorate the milestone.
Meunier’s trust comes despite increasing competition in crossovers and SUVs. Most notably, Ford Motor is resurrecting its Bronco SUV as a new “family” of vehicles, including a new crossover called the Bronco Sport and upcoming, more traditional SUV models later this year.
“We’re going to have significant growth,” said Meunier, referring to sustained growth that is focused on profit margins and loyalty building. “We’re going to get it right.”