In 2015, then-boss of then-Fiat Chrysler Sergio Marchionne was quoted as saying: "When I see a Range Rover on the street, my blood boils, because we should be able to do a thing like that." We've watched Jeep chase this objective for years, through the Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer. The brand's quest upmarket seems to be culminating in the super-sleek, all-electric Wagoneer S slated to drop this year. Interestingly, we've also been watching the brand's sales dive. Are we sure it knows what it's doing?
I'm not saying Stellantis is incapable of building nice luxury cars. I'm just not sure how many people want a Range Rover-styled (and Range Rover-priced) Jeep. By the looks of sales figures, it seems not many. Business Insider called out Jeep's sales decrease of almost 30% from 2018 to 2022. Seat supplier Forvia bailed on working with the brand last summer because it couldn't make money, per Crain's Detroit Business. And a Bloomberg headline from a few months ago spelled out what a lot of other stories are pointing to: "Jeep’s jump to $100,000 SUVs risks leaving loyal buyers behind."
With the enduring popularity of boxy 4x4s, Jeep's well-established off-road cred, and Stellantis' deep bench of engineers, I wish the brand would hustle on something it could actually do well: a vehicle with the vibe of a Rivian and the looks of a traditional Jeep, sans gimmicks, at a more appealing price point.
The Jeep Recon concept feels pretty close to that dream, and Jeep's site still says it's "coming in 2024." But instead of getting more details on that, because of this enduring obsession with becoming the American Range Rover, we get this luxury Wagoneer S as Jeep’s new statement of purpose. And it just feels like empty calories.
A new press release about it just dropped highlighting, you guessed it, the vehicle's stupid-fast 3.5-second 0-60 mph dash and its incredible square footage of screens. The same selling points you tend to hear alongside every new EV release. The Wagoneer S doesn't look bad—but then it doesn't really look like anything, except the perfect conveyance to go from a copy-paste neighborhood of McMansions to Buffalo Wild Wings.
Our own News Editor Adam Ismail's close with somebody who works at a Jeep store slinging cars. My colleague paraphrased one of the salesman's recent complaints: "We get so many people coming in wanting something like the Cherokee, but we have nothing to offer them anymore." The Compass is still too small for many buyers, and for those who would entertain one, the much newer Chevy Trax is almost $6,000 less expensive.
Meanwhile, the Grand Wagoneer looks like a caricature of itself, the Renegade was left to rot on the vine, and even Wranglers are getting pushed further up price brackets to sit on lots at ridiculous list prices. The Wagoneer S appears to be the realization of that upmarket push that Marchionne wanted so many years ago, steadily marching on out of sight and mind of Jeep's core Wrangler-buying loyalists.
Today, Jeep could (and should!) be making a statement about electrification and ruggedness being compatible—oneness with nature, green off-roading, adventure without the climate guilt, whatever—by putting something like the Recon into production first, or dropping an electric Wrangler, which has been teased endlessly through concepts and the 4xe plug-in hybrid. Instead, we get another anodyne jellybean that's going to get lost in PF Chang's parking lots, at a time when public interest in those seems to be waning.
I don't want to demean those who worked hard to bring the Wagoneer S to life, and I know no car's creation is a single person's effort or choice. But I'm not optimistic about this being Jeep's ticket back to relevance.
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