September 2014 Issue of 4×4 Magazine
As far as off-road heroes go, Sergio Marchionne might not be a name you are familiar with. In many respects, however, if you are a 4×4 enthusiast today, he’s probably up there with the Wilks brothers, Spen King and the Indian Tata family; without whom, Land Rover wouldn’t be what it is today. Without Sergio Marchionne, we’d simply be without Jeep. Full stop.
Apparently back in 2009, the weeds around the Jeep factory in Detroit were three feet high as the company shuddered in the shadows of bankruptcy. It wasn’t a great time to be a Jeep dealer anywhere, certainly not in the UK. Fast forward five years to January 2014 and the Italian Fiat SpA company secured full ownership of the Chrysler Group in an eye-watering $4.35 billion agreement, and the man behind the deal (and with it the complete revival of the Jeep brand) is Sergio Marchionne, chief executive of Chrysler (Source: www.bloomberg.com).
Without Signor Marchionne, I would not have been scrabbling through a muddy stream in the very latest Jeep Cherokee, looking for the exit up a bank and back onto the grassy field, ready to climb back up the hill, impressed with Jeep’s Active Drive system. Now the new Cherokee may not be everyone’s cup of off-road tea, the version I was driving certainly comes under the description ‘soft roader’ and it has a very distinctive design, which many may well not wish parked on their drive. However, that’s not the point. In 2009 Jeep, as a serious 4×4 brand, had no future, now that future looks extremely exciting.
Sales targets for the latest Jeep Cherokee are ambitious; in the UK alone the company is looking at 5000 per annum, through its revitalised 72-dealer network. The SUV class is a highly competitive one, especially in the UK, but Jeep is not relying totally on this nosey new model. Wait until you hear what’s on the way. Early next year there will be the small Renegade, which the company says, “will be the most capable small SUV in the world”. It will also be the first Jeep ever built outside the US, and exported back to the North American home country from an Italian factory, no less. Then there will be the ‘C-segment’ SUV Evoque competitor in 2017, followed by a completely new Grand Cherokee a year later. It’s even said that the famous Grand Wagoneer will return to production as a competitor to the Range Rover. Best of all, there are plans to revive and revamp the wonderful Wrangler, but fear not, it will remain a ‘proper Jeep’ of that we are sure. All this thanks to the business acumen of Sergio Marchionne. Grazie, signor.
Now, of course, all this is not because Marchionne is some huge mud-plugging enthusiast, with gearbox oil and grit embedded under his fingernails. The aim of the Fiat takeover of Chrysler has been to create a monster mass production motor manufacturer to match General Motors, to get Fiats and Alfas on the roads of America in big numbers; the revival of Jeep has been something of a by-product of the deal. Not that we are complaining. And you can bet that the grass outside that factory in Detroit is trimmed to perfection these days!
Here’s hoping you enjoy the issue.
Nigel Fryatt, Editor
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