Analysis: Jeep attempts to go global - again

Fri Dec 21, 2012 2:11pm EST
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By Paul Lienert

DETROIT (Reuters) - The 62-year-old Jeep brand is poised to get a sweeping multibillion-dollar overhaul that will expand the product range, boost its overseas presence and knit the fortunes of Jeep and U.S. parent Chrysler even more closely with those of Italy's Fiat SpA FIA.MI.

Fiat, which took management control of Chrysler after the U.S. automaker's 2009 bankruptcy, plans to broaden the Jeep stable from four to at least six nameplates by 2016, Reuters has learned.

Three of those future Jeeps will be built on Fiat platforms, according to two industry sources familiar with Chrysler's and Fiat's future product programs, and several will share their underpinnings with companion models from Fiat and its premium European brands, Alfa Romeo and Maserati.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is masterminding the four-year retooling that is intended to establish Jeep as one of the Italian automaker's core global brands.

It is far and away the most ambitious effort to elevate the Jeep brand, which traces its roots to the iconic World War Two military vehicle and has had multiple owners over the past seven decades, including French automaker Renault SA (RENA.PA: Quote) and German automaker Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE: Quote).

"Jeep probably has the strongest global reputation of any brand inside the company - but it's never really been developed," said David Cole, chairman of Ann Arbor, Michigan, consulting firm AutoHarvest and a longtime industry analyst.

That has begun to change under Marchionne, who has been pushing for greater integration of the Fiat and Chrysler product ranges, while singling out Jeep for special attention and heavy investment.


A Jeep Wrangler is shown on the showroom floor at the Criswell Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Fiat-Ram truck dealership in Gaithersburg, Maryland October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Gary Cameron