Jeep on becoming a global company: ‘Sergio Marchionne pushed us a lot’

It’s fair to say that of the many brands that fall under the Fiat Chrysler banner, Jeep is one that stays largely focused on the US market.

An awkward spot to be, design-wise, since Jeep’s SUV focus has made it by far the most successful badge in the group globally.

“In the last ten years, we weren’t very ‘global’,” Jeep’s head design man, Mark Allen, says. “We had to learn all that quickly.

“The Renegade is a great example. We designed that all in America, but it utilised a Fiat platform. We have another vehicle we designed all in my shop here, but we only sell in China [the Jeep Grand Commander]. To design a vehicle entirely over the telephone with people you don’t even speak the same language as… that’s a real challenge. It was a lot of figuring-it-out as we go.”

The Jeep Renegade was discontinued from the Australian market last year following poor sales. Earlier this year, the brand’s local boss, Kevin Flynn, told CarsGuide: “Right at the moment, the equations don’t quite add up” for the small SUV which was sourced from an Italian factory.

The Renegade was canned in Australia, but could return for its second-generation. The Renegade was canned in Australia, but could return for its second-generation.

He was keen not to shut the door on the upcoming second-generation offering due around 2021, and spruiked the brand’s local strategy to now focus on the larger Compass.

But Mr Allen says Jeep’s recent global design push should have us seeing much more “interesting” products other than the most recent Wrangler and Gladiator duo.

“Sergio [Marchionne – ex FCA boss] pushed us a lot,” he said of the late leader’s push to have Jeep heading in a global direction. “It was not easy, but it was interesting, and in hindsight, a lot of fun.

“With Jeep, the leverage I have is I can go to any market in the world. They know who I am, and they know what I do. In 1987 we tried to sell Dodge muscle cars in Germany [laughs] you know… they didn’t know who anyone was or what we were trying to do… but they knew Jeep… they knew what that was about.”

With Jeep’s parent company FCA facing a historically massive merger with French conglomerate PSA [Peugeot Citroen], we quizzed Mr Allen on how much working with a shared parts catalog affected his work in design.

“It doesn’t affect my end of the business too much,” he explained. “We have gotten used to building these vehicles sold all around the world – China, South America, Europe – there’s subtle differences between each market, but that’s mainly for the product teams. You know, Latin America isn’t so big on leather seats and such, while China definitely wants all the technology.”

We asked Mr Allen about Jeep’s next big release, the new-generation Grand Cherokee, if there was anything he could let us know about the design language his team had employed.

“There’s a surprise coming that you’re going to love,” he said, refusing to elaborate further, especially on the topic of the seven-seat version which has been spied in camouflage. “I’m the only guy in design that’s worked on every Grand Cherokee at some point. We talk about Wrangler all the time, but Grand Cherokee is the seller. We’re really happy with the new one.”

Could the Chinese-market Grand Commander offer clues to on the new Grand Cherokee design? Could the Chinese-market Grand Commander offer clues to on the new Grand Cherokee design?

We know the new Grand Cherokee is due some time in 2021 thanks to documents which were released as part of FCA’s dispute with America’s United Auto Workers Union (UAW), and the new flagship SUV is set to be on a shared platform with Alfa Romeo.

It will also reportedly employ a new version of the brand’s eight-speed automatic transmission, and be joined by a seven-seat variant.

Jeep is also working on a Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer, adding yet another nameplate to its SUV line-up, but little is known about it other than it will be built at the same facility that currently produces the Ram 1500.

Stay tuned for more as we inch closer to the new Grand Cherokee’s 2021 launch date.