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Jeep boss details turnaround strategy

Gladiator, Wrangler, Compass at heart of Jeep’s sales, brand recovery in Australia

4 Mar 2020

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia president and CEO Kevin Flynn has outlined how the all-new Jeep Gladiator ute, Wrangler off-roader and soon-to-be-relaunched Compass mid-size SUV will underpin a new strategy designed to turn around the fortunes of the struggling American brand.


The recently appointed local FCA chief also said the entire Jeep line-up would be revamped and pared back from 39 to 25 model variants as the Australian subsidiary worked to justify its position as a linchpin in Jeep’s global right-hand-drive markets.


In an exclusive interview with GoAuto, Mr Flynn said the Gladiator pick-up that enters showrooms in May would stand alongside the related JL Wrangler launched mid-2019 as a beacon for the Jeep brand, with the incoming Compass standing as a redefined volume-selling proposition next to Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.


The aim is to rebuild Jeep’s position in the marketplace as a trustworthy and aspirational brand with sophisticated, capable and high-value products that are easily understood by prospective buyers.


And the intention is to achieve a substantial increase in sales, building up from the miserly 5500 units recorded last year to something akin to the 30,000-plus Jeep was racking up only six years ago.


“The beauty about Wrangler is just the sheer capability and the unique credibility of the vehicle in both urban and non-urban environments. It shouts capability and it goes right back to the DNA of Willys Jeep right the way back to the 1940s,” Mr Flynn said.


“So that is something that is very special and the company has such a respect for Wrangler and therefore we have this continual development. That is why we got the new JL – a massive leap from the previous generation JK.


“So Jeep can’t be anything without Wrangler being a core part of what we are and I love that. We understand that it is our core and we understand that it is a real flag-waver and everything fits in from there.


“Now Gladiator is coming in May and clearly what we have here is a lifestyle truck which is where we are aiming it. It has all the capability of a Wrangler baked in a unique package. The door, the roof, the screens; everything comes off so it is a unique vehicle for living the Jeep lifestyle.


“As a first step, we have gone through the entire simplification of our line-up. We had 39 different versions of our products in the marketplace and we are taking that down to 25.”


Mr Flynn said this was aimed at reducing complication for customers and dealers and eliminating variants that no-one wants.


“What we have seen, even though the volumes have not been what we have desired, the entry lower-specced vehicles are no longer in demand,” he said.


“We have looked at all our models and asked what could we add in terms of safety features and right-sized screens and that sort of thing to increase the appeal, and then how do we realign that to make sure we have a series of models which satisfy those demands?


“It makes it easier for the dealers and makes it easier for the customers and makes it easier for us to work with.


“So that is all being rolled out model range by model range.


“We have realigned Grand Cherokee, that has all been done, and some fresh variants are all coming through right now.


“In terms of model lines, I have two groups of vehicles. I have Wrangler and Gladiator and then I have Compass, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.


“So now we are going to start with Grand Cherokee Night Eagle as our entry option and everything below that is gone. Lovely spec, looks great, very sporty and has the right sort of overtones with a good level of features and safety baked in there.


“That goes right up to S-Limited which is a really lovely luxury package.


“The big one for me is Compass. I am quite passionate about the 2020 Compass being previously responsible for India where we championed right-hand-drive products under Compass.


“There are four plants around the world making Compass and the Indian plant has the highest quality off-line so we have a great product to work with. I am very proud of what that is.


“The Australian Compass will come from India. We are selling them in Tokyo which is a very discerning market and the product holds up very well.


“We have realigned the specifications and we want to relaunch Compass and we want to get Compass to really make an impression in that segment that it really deserves. Great componentry, very sophisticated car and it is very important that we get customers to understand what makes that product capable and yet so useable in urban driving.


“So, a simplification of the range, obviously launching Gladiator, I think Wrangler has more scope so we want to look at that and see how we can enhance it and there is plenty of opportunity to bring special versions of that vehicle.”


Mr Flynn said that Australia was the first country in the world to get the right-hand-drive Gladiator and that this shows “the importance of Australia to the right-hand-drive aspirations” of FCA.


“That places a big responsibility on us to do a good job with Gladiator,” he said.


“Australia is a key part of our company’s (global) strategy for right-hand drive. We have an actual commitment to right-hand drive. There are a lot of very big markets in right-hand drive.


“India and Japan. Japan is great and for us is a very important market. The UK and Thailand. So there is a job to be done and the company has a belief in right-hand drive and a focus on right-hand drive.


“You think about what we are doing and the brief that I have that comes right from the very top. So the strategy that we are putting together for Australia has been shared with the global executive committee.


“This is not a backwater that we have been asked to just get on with, it has global focus and is an important turnaround for us because (in this market) we are in an unnatural position (in terms of share of the SUV market).


“It feels like we are almost constrained (in Australia) and that we just have to address some fundamental issues in the eye of the consumer; rebuild that trust. And things have moved and then the proof will be in the pudding and we show that we can convince and grow.


“The product is good enough, the quality is there and we are putting in place the infrastructure to deal with (customers) and a mindset that is completely customer-centric.


“That is number one for me.”

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